Sunday, September 20, 2009

A portable shrine (and a piece of clever storytelling!)

Have you ever seen a Kavad? I saw one in Udaipur, and I was fascinated by it.

A Kavad is an amazing wooden painted temple, with lots of panels and secret compartments that fold out to tell a story. The Kavadiya Bhats, the Priests of the Kavad, take these around from village to village. The really fascinating thing is, the story doesn't make sense unless you open the panels in the correct sequence. Why? Because a fair bit of tricky carpentry has gone into the kavad - some panels slide out, some swivel on a stick, some open out like drawers, and still some others are fold-outs...And of course, only the Kavadiya Bhat knows the secret sequence! So the audience sits, fascinated, as the Bhat tells the story in song and dance, turns the little panels this way and that. Here's one of the panels:

As the story develops, the Kavadiya too progresses towards the inner-most central panel, and the story comes to its logical climax with the final image of the God or Goddess in full regalia, very much like a temple sanctum.

Here's another kavad (about ten feet wide when it is opened out fully). And you can see, at the centre of the kavad, the grand finale of the story - the coronation image of Lord Ram!
Here's a closer look at the central sanctum:At this point, the narration ends, and, guess what, the audience is required to put money into the kavad - there's a little box for it, a slit in the kavad, specially designed for this! Ah, what a tricky box of carpentry, and what a fantastic story-telling aid this. I wish we could bring a Kavadiya to the cities, and ask them to fashion this as an aid for history lessons in our schools. How utterly delighted the children would be!