Kavad or Kaavad is a traditional Indian form of storytelling, using a wooden box with many doors.
Kavad or Kaavad:
Kavad or Kaavad is a traditional Indian form of storytelling, using a wooden box with many doors. The doors open to reveal painted panels illustrating the tale. The box is also called Kavad. The stories were customarily from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, but also about local rulers and heroes.
The term probably came from the word ‘Kivaad’ a colloquial word for ‘door’. It could also be a reference to ‘kavadia yatra’ – the practice of bringing water from the Ganga in cannisters balanced across the shoulders like weighing scales. The Kavad boxes were quite large – about the size of a small wardrobe - and were carried on the shoulders of the storytellers from one remote village to another.
The Kavad boxes are made by the Suthars, a carpenter community in Bassi Village in Rajasthan’s Mewar region. The Kavadia Bhatts are the storytellers who know this technique of storytelling. The Jajmans or patrons of the art – usually local rulers – commissioned the storytellers in olden days to go all over their lands, recounting religious stories and also talking about the rulers’ achievements. It was a way of keeping local history alive, and giving publicity to the rulers.
The stories were mostly about one hero. They could be one tale, or a collection of stories. They could also be stories about the exploits of the family of a local ruler. Normally, a Kavad has 10 sets of doors and illustrated panels. The Kavadia Bhatt sits on the floor, holding the Kavad at an angle which allows all the people around him to see it. He then opens the first set of doors, and the panel beneath is a kind of ‘trailer’ of the story. He explains what the story is about, and then opens a flap beneath the box, to receive payment from the audience. When enough money is collected, the storyteller proceeds with his tale. If the story is long, he may pause at critical moments, leaving the audience in suspense, and open the collection flap again to receive more money. The last set of doors open into a ‘shrine’, with 3D images of the hero and his consorts.
At times, the story could take several days to tell, and villagers would provide the storyteller food and a place to stay.
The art form was most popular in what is now the State of Rajasthan, and its adjoining regions.
There are records of Kavad storytelling dating back 400 years. But it may have existed even before that.
The Kavad tradition was originally a family business. But now, with modern forms of entertainment being easily available even in remote areas, the need for it is dying out. However, artisans are making smaller Kavad boxes, which can be considered curios. Also, Government and other agencies are trying to use these traditional storytellers to convey information about welfare measures, and some educational organisations are experimenting with it as a way to make learning fun for young children.