“If you can’t go to the temple, the temple will come to you.”
Much before cinema and animations, storytelling was in such forms that would bring the storyteller and listener together in their mesmerising worlds of mythical heroes and gods.The Kaavad was one such method of storytelling, which also had a religious significance. It is a travelling shrine containing within its doors elaborate tales and epics. With the mystery of a new turn in the tale behind every door, the Kaavad would leave the audiences spellbound.
Kaavad is a rich, oral tradition of storytelling in Rajasthan, believed to be 4oo years old. Kaavad is also the name of the medium used for this kind of storytelling; it is a portable shrine, which has a visual narrative of mythological and folk tales. The shrine is not just a religious piece of worship, but also a wonderful collage of images that are bound together in stories by the storyteller, the Kaavadiya.
The Kaavad looks like a box with a number of doors, with colourful illustrations decorating them. As each door opens, a new chapter in the story unfolds. The stories are from the epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as local folk tales about semi-divine heroes.
The Kaavad shrine is made of mango or sheesham wood, by a community of carpenters (suthars) in the Mewar district, for the storytellers (Kaavadiyas) from the Marwar district who recite the Kaavad (Kaavad Baanchana) for their patrons (jajmans) spread over Rajasthan and other states.
The Kaavad text constitutes the practitioners and their patrons, the painted images, the shrine-like structure and the narratives. All are interdependent on each other and this is perhaps the reason for its survival over the years. These days, the kaavad is also being used as a learning device for educating children, because of its fun and interactive qualities. It seems that because of its ability to engross an audience and communicate lucidly, the Kaavad tradition will evolve and spread far and wide.