Kavad is a Rajasthani folk art that uses colourful wooden boxes to tell stories. The boxes look like little temples with layered doors upon which pictures are painted in an order so the narrator can reveal each one in a dramatic manner as stories progress.
Dwarika tells me to sit and urges me to ask him whatever I want. He is eager to talk and I can tell how passionate he is about the craft which covers stories about Radha and Krishna, Durga, Mahabharatha.
The construction of this box is itself quite complicated and requires precision in fitting multiple panels and hinges. They are mostly made of mango wood.
According to him, Kavad originated close to 500 years ago when there was a need to educate people on aspects of Hinduism like karma and dharma. Members of the bhaat caste created these portable wooden structures with images to make it easier to engage with audiences.
Over time, it expanded to include other themes like the importance of educating the girl child – Meena ki kahani. Meena is a girl who helps her mother at home with the cleaning and managing of cattle. A schoolteacher one day meets her mother and tells her to send Meena to the local school because education is important for both boys and girls. After high school, Meena gets the opportunity to go London where she does a computer course and then returns to India to teach other girls.
Kavad is meant to entertain and convey essential morals. Today it has been adapted to teach children alphabets as well. The Jungle ki kahani story demonstrates the harmony needed between man and nature.
Dwarika is sad that people today do not have the time for stories (narrating and listening) which is why Kavad has become a languishing craft. He proudly tells me about how it took him and ten artisans over a month to make a massive kavad for the Republic Day parade as part of the Rajasthan entourage. When I ask him if these sorts of endeavours translate into long-term orders, he laughs and says, ‘It is a matter of pride. We just want people to appreciate what we do.” Through his smartphone, he shows me pictures of a tall kavad done for Durga pujo in Kolkata.
I watched him recite a couple of kavads, excitedly opening each flap like a magician. The last section when all the pieces are open is the climax and he watches all our faces to see if we are as thrilled as he is.
Dwarika has two children in their 30s – a son and daughter. He enjoys his work and watching people listen to him narrate. To diversify the income, he also does paintings on sandook boxes and canvas paintings. He shows me two pieces – one a montage of village life and one of city life. I can see the contrast in them, the peace of rurality against urban chaos.