My first post on Rajasthan was based on my road trip last Feb. A short trip this year completes one full year for me. The trip last year was fabulous not only because the majestic Mehrangarh Fort mesmerised me, also because it was a feeling of having broken away from the past with hopes for the new future ahead. As the shrubby desert roads sped by, I sat back in the car dreaming about the all the new things that would happen in 2011. This year, I did the same recollecting my experiences. Though only a few of them have come true, I am happier about the surprises.

Bassi was one such surprise. This year I went to Rajasthan on a purpose. I was to meet a craftsman who painted stories from the adventures of the legendary Pabuji(more on that very very soon), then spend the weekend tucked away in the middle of nowhere. The discussion(which almost lulled my husband to sleep) veered to Kaavad and I let myself be persuaded by the craftsman to travel the extra 50km to visit Bassi. Once there, I was completely taken by the craft and the craftsman. Kaavad is not new to me. In fact, my Diwali gifts to my clients was a miniature Kaavad. At Bassi, I spent the whole morning discussing the beautiful mobile shrines, the way forward for a craft that seemed to be struggling to stay afloat and worried at the fact that the craftsman’s children were not interested in the craft. (The proud father remarked that they went to school, which meant that they would do ‘better’ things in life)

Kaavad is a portable, mobile shrine. The oral tradition of storytelling is still alive (and rapidly diminishing) in some parts of Rajasthan. Stories from the Mahabharatha and Ramayana are told, accompanied by musical instruments. The Kaavad brings the God to the devotee, rather than the devotee seeking out the shrine.The portable shrine opens its many doors to reveal characters in the plot. The characters are mainly Gods and Goddesses from the epics.

The Kaavads are made using Neem wood, its bitter qualities making it pest free and ideal for long term usage. The Suthar community from Bassi in the Mewar region of Rajasthan are the only ones who make the Kaavad. There are hardly 10-12 Kaavad makers in Bassi and most of them make poor quality products that are sold at throw away prices in the Udaipur markets. Sathya Narayan Suthar is one of the very few master craftsmen making Kaavads.

The Kaavads are used by Bhats from Marwar to narrate these stories. The Bhats originate from Nagaur and Jodhpur. Interestingly the Bhats are genealogists and they keep a record of ancestry and lineage in their village. They narrate these stories during local festivals and are known to keep their audiences entranced by the mystery held behind each door of the Kaavad.

Each panel is intricately painted with a brush.

Here is a life-size Kaavad. Why don’t our interiors feature such stunning pieces?

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