A Box of Tales

While everybody at the Bassi fort is sound asleep, unaware of the dancing peacocks on the roof tops and the idle flutters of pigeons, Anju Singh Tawar paces the time-worn corridors with a sprightly gait. Today is a very special day. Come evening, a storyteller will stride into their courtyard and recount ancient tales. This storyteller is no ordinary man. He is a raconteur who carries with him a curious box of tales and mysteries - The Kaavad. Anju Tawar knows all too well how kings and gods come alive with the opening of this vibrant wooden box; an art kept alive by the Kavadia Bhats for more than 350 years. 

 

A couple of turns from the Bassi fort is the humble home of Gangly Prasad. The renowned Kavad maker of Bassi. Like Anju Tawar, he too is expecting his old friend, the Kavadia Bhat. Theirs is a fond relationship wherein one cannot do without the other.  Although today, Gangly Prasad makes many Kavaads everyday to be exhibited at museums and fairs and to be sold as souvenirs, originally, 350 years ago, the Kavad maker made Kaavads for the Kavadia Bhats only. The tales he paints in the box emerge life-like in the skilled hands of the Kavadia-Bhat. Without the KavadMaker, the Kavadia Bhat would not have stories to tell and without the Kavadia Bhat, there would be nobody to bring alive the maker’s work.

 

The Kavad is quite literally a movable temple-shrine. Within it are miniature windows that are hinged into the framework of the box. Tales, often epics and accounts of heroes and kings and gods, are painted sequentially onto the panels within the box. As the Kavadia Bhat goes over each panel, he turns open the panels to reveal the next sequence. At full extension, the Kavad box resembles a bird with outstretched wings. 

 

The Kavad tradition is nearly as old as 400 years old and is known to have originated in Bassi, in the Chittor district of Rajasthan . The Kavadia Bhats are always on the road, visiting their patrons (Families they visit frequently - often a relationship carried through generations) spread out across the state. Today, fewer than 12 Kavadia Bhats are known to actively practice this unique form of storytelling. 

 

As the Kavadia Bhat steps gently down the streets of Bassi, the children are first to notice him. They know what is concealed within the thin cloth-bag he lugs over his shoulders. They surround him gleefully and request him to recount a tale. It is a wonder to watch him at once come into his element and dazzle the awestruck children with his storytelling. The word spreads and soon an energetic group of men taking a midday break mob him for stories at the Bazaar. He offers no resistance.  this is the way of the Kavadia Bhat - the storyteller with a boxful of tales. Be it at a crowded market place or beneath an ancient banyan tree or in the palace of royals, the Kavadia Bhat does what he knows best - unfurl his curious box and make stories come alive.

 

 

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