Souvenir – Kavad, from Rajasthan
When I travel I always tend to pick up a few souvenirs, nothing unusual, I am sure you do too. Sometimes it is confusing what to pick, but in Rajasthan I found myself confused over what not to pick. The wide range of knickknacks and keepsakes I saw there was astounding, all within a reasonable price range too!
One bright little thing that caught my eye was the Kavad, a portable temple made of wood. They are one of the oldest interactive story telling tool. I held one in my hand. It was very light to hold and measured less than ‘one foot by one foot’ in dimension. There were doors waiting to be opened, small little doors with what looked like angelic forms painted on them. I open them only to see folded doors again. I keep on unfolding them one after the other and the painted panels open up on either side. The first door that I had opened is now behind one of the open panels.
“If you observe carefully, there are different stories in the panels in either side,” said the sales guy of kavad as I stared at it in amazement! “It is like a book,” he stressed. I folded the doors and unfolded them again. Yes, stories of Lord Krishna on one side and stories of Lord Ram on the other. The last door of Kavad conceals the supreme deities: Ram, Lakshman and Sita or Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Shubhadra.
When professionals tell stories through these kavads, they expect you to drop some money in the donation box below the temple. The small box is in the lower part of the portable temple.
A kavad cost just Rs.250! Will it provide at least a one time meal to the artisan and his family? I didn’t have the heart to bargain. I picked up this piece in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. They are also available at exhibitions of Rajasthan hosted by other states.
Kavad is made of Mango or Seasame wood, by the wood carvers of Bassi a small town 25 kilometers north-east of Chittorgarh. Men make these, small box like, temples with hinged doors; women paint them with stories from epics. They were the tools of professional bards, known as Kavadia Bhatts, who traditionally traveled from village to village. They chant the tales of epics keeping alive the 400 years old tradition. There are mentions that this art is said to be about 2000 yrs old! This form of story telling has existed from the time of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain.