Telling Tales

Art history/ Historiography, Crafts, Handlooms, Art

Telling Tales: The Kaavad, The Miniature Portable Shrines of Rajasthan

Sethi, Dr. Ritu

The evidence of the antiquity of painted narrative traditions extendsfrom architectural remains and mural paintings to textual evidence that dates back to the 3rd Century BCE. Serving the needs of a broad swath of people by bringing access to religious stories and didactic teachings the creativity of the myth-teller was expressed not only through the orality of the storytelling but the painted imagery of the characters that peopled the story. From easily portable rolled-up scrolls and painted textiles to wooden devices the stories were transported from village to village to be unveiled to gatherings of people by the itinerant myth-tellers. In the age of cinema, television and digital media this tradition is now rarely to be seen though there are still some rural pockets of Rajasthan where miniature portable shrines - the Kaavad is an existent  tradition thatcontinues to be brought to the doorstep of devotees across the state. The Kaavad conjures up a temple withnarrative myths vividly illustrated, the detailed figures and scenes hand-painted.This wooden shrine with its ingeniously hinged multiple doors that are folded concertina-type is ceremoniously opened during the recitation by the itinerant storyteller-priest - the Kaavadiya-Bhat. A single Kaavad can be used to recite multiple stories, each finding place in the painted panels, doors and corners of the Kaavad from the depictionof episodes from the Hindu epics, stories of local hero-gods and saints, family genealogies to heroic deeds of clan ancestors. The viewing of the Kaavad simulates a visit to a shrine a...
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