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Kaavad Tradition of Rajasthan
A Portable Pilgrimage
By Nina Sabnani
Hardcover; 186pp
Niyogi Books, 2014
₹1495 / £25 / $45

A well-researched book on a lesser known oral tradition of storytelling, it traces all aspects of Kaavad – the anatomy of the Kaavad, the community of Kaavad makers, the storytellers and their repertoire of stories.

A 400 year old oral tradition of storytelling, called ‘Kaavad Banchana’, is still alive in Rajasthan, where stories from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, from the Puranas, and folk tales are told with the help of a Kaavad.

The Kaavad is a portable, brightly painted wooden box with multiple wooden panels hinged together. Each panel bears a painted narrative.  The storyteller, who travels around to the homes of his patrons, opens and closes the panels as the story progresses.  The paintings are normally of Gods, goddesses, saints, local heroes and the patrons. Kaavads are made by the Suthar (carpenter) community in Mewar for the Kaavadiya Bhat (storyteller) from Marwar “who brings it to his patron’s houses in Rajasthan.” The maker, the storyteller and his patron, together have kept the tradition alive.

The Suthar community of Bassi, a tiny village near Chittor (on the road to Kota), takes pride in being the only Kaavad makers in the country. Of the 25 families of Suthars that live there only five or six families are involved in making Kaavads.

The Kaavadiya Bhats are the wandering storytellers of the Kaavad tradition who live around the Jodhpur, Nagaur and Kishangarh districts of Rajasthan. They use the Kaavad to make a living. The term ‘Bhat’ distinguishes them from the Kaavadiyas who carry water from the Ganges in Haridwar to their hometowns in ‘Kaavads’ (two baskets balanced on a pole in which the pots of water are placed and carried on the shoulder by the Kaavadiya).

A beautifully illustrated book, it transports the reader to another world – into the lives of Kaavad makers, storytellers and their patrons. A must read for those interested in Indian folklore.

About the Author
Nina Sabnani is an artist and a long-time story teller. She graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Vadodara and received a master’s degree in film from Syracuse University, NY, which she pursued as a Fulbright Fellow in 1997. Her doctoral research at IDC was on Rajasthan’s Kaavad storytelling tradition. After teaching for two decades at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Nina has made Mumbai her home. She is Associate Professor at the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Mumbai.


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