Monday, March 28, 2011

KAWAD – Traditional Storytelling from Rajasthan

At the exhibition, I learnt about Kawad, the story telling tradition from Rajasthan. Kawad is a 500 year old tradition of storytelling using a wooden box temple with many folded doors. The doors have small paintings on them narrating incidents from a story. The pictures in sequence form a story from Indian mythology or any regular story.
In the old times, when there were no schools, Kawadi people in Rajasthan would make these wooden temple boxes with stories and travel from village to village narrating a story. In the end, the wooden box had a drawer where the audience is supposed to drop their tips to the narrator. In this way, people would be educated. With newer times, the Kawadi had new stories like “Meena ki Kahani” (Story of Meena), where Meena is a girl from a small village. There is a teacher in the village who asks her parents to send her to school. Meena goes to school, studies hard along with managing the chores at home. She later goes out of her village to the city to study and then goes to America J. She comes back with prizes to her village again and opens a school to educate women. The story very well depicted in pictures, promotes education of girls. Another simple Kawad I found was of the English letters A-Z with pictures of A for Apple, B for Ball J. New designs to match the new generation!
We decided to buy a traditional Kawad depicting the Story of Lord Ram and Lord Krishna.
The first two little doors hold pictures of devotees; open the door to find door guardians and a picture of Lord Vishnu sitting on his snake bed.
Opening out the first door, we see King Dasharatha with his queens and two sons Ram and Laxman. Next pictures shows Ram and Laxman with Sage Vishwamitra in his ashram to help him kill the demons who have been harassing the sage and his disciples. Next we see Ram and Laxman praying to the Shiva lingam. Lord Ram marries Princess Sita, and next depiction is on killing the 10-headed demon King Ravan and to end, Ram’s favorite devotee Lord Hanuman.
The left doors displayed the story of Lord Krishna, born to his parents Devaki and Vasudeva. Vasudeva taking the new born baby to his foster parents, Yashoda and Nanda, crossing the high-current river. Next frame shows Baby Krishna eating butter, and the evil ogress Putana who tries to kill Baby Krishna with poisoned breast milk, but baby Krishna sucks the life out of her. Next frame shows Krishna taming the serpent Kaliya who poisoned the Yamuna River, picking up the Govardhan Hill, fighting the demons. The last door opens to a depiction of Lord Rama, Mother Sita and Brother Laxman.
The 21st century might use Microsoft Powerpoint presentations, while these old traditions used simple wooden boxes J.
The narration of this story was very rhythmic and dramatic with superb dialogues that make you laugh! The narrator was very enthusiastic to narrate the stories one after the other. I felt sorry for him as he said that not many would stay at his stall for that long to listen to any of his narrations. He narrated about 5 stories to usJ. At the end of it, I just wanted to buy a piece for the reason that it was a unique old tradition that I had never heard of and that I would contribute in a very small way to his people and his dying tradition.
The kawad which I brought is about 8-9 inches tall and it cost me 500/- ($11). If you ever get a chance to see these, do listen to the story. It is so much fun!


  1. This thing is so excellent, I love it!

  2. Hi
    Shilpa ji
    i am wondering about this art because before some days ago i met one person called Mangilal how is working with this art. after meeting i feel this art is dyeing. how can we help to this art.

    Sandeep mathpati
    Piramal Foundation For Education Leadership

  3. it is really very nice to read it and know about it. it is my own culture but i do not know it.


  5. For those who wish to support and buy kawad, I found a website that sells these items produced on demand.

    1. Hello shilpa I have tried to go on the website you have mentioned but my page tells me that it doesn't exist. Help!!!!

  6. hello Shilpa
    i am a researcher in storytelling. i read your article about kawad. can u tell me in what exhibition u saw kawad? who was telling the story of meena? i know it is old information , but if you can help , i will be thankful. pls write back at

  7. wishlist now..Thankyou for the article Shilpa.

  8. We also want to buy this, can you tell from where have you bought this kawaad. You said you bought at rs 500.
    Please do share the place at 8955797898 or

  9. hi can anyone help me with the contact details of kawad making artist i m intrested in taking a raw piece and have it painted on my theme my contact number is 9982008880 vineet