Tell me a story...

Imagine painted wooden panels that have been joined together such that they tell a story and can be used as shrines as well -- Kaavad from Rajasthan. This is but one example of diverse, rich traditions of storytelling that India offers. These forms of storytelling do not involve opening a book and reading out or even narrating a tale known by generations. These are forms of art in their own right and performance forms the most important part of it.

New Kaavads that are being developed for educational purposes such as teaching the alphabet. Pics courtesy/Vidyun Sabhaney

Tales of India
In 2012, two comic book artists; 25-year-old Vidyun Sabhaney who is based in Delhi and Japanese artist Shohei Emura, set out to study different visual forms of storytelling across India. The result of their research, which was sponsored by the India Foundation for the Arts, displayed the changes these forms of visual performances have gone through over the years and how they have managed to continue telling their stories. “As a comic book artist, I was intrigued as to how different forms of Indian storytelling, which is an oral tradition, adds a visual element to it with the help of some embellishments through performance,” says Sabhaney who will speak about the developments in Indian storytelling traditions at India Culture Lab tomorrow. The talk will use research and observations that were a result of her experiences and travels with Emura.

An image of a Bengali Pata belonging to Dukusham Chitrakar, used as part of the Indian independence movement.

While several Indian arts and crafts struggle to survive in today’s mechanised world, these forms of storytelling have survived by making a few changes. Sabhaney states the example of the Kaavads: “The performance aspect of the forms of storytelling has reduced drastically. People have new modes of entertainment. The makers of Kaavads have started making compact, easy-to-pack versions of it, so tourists can buy them as souvenirs. They are also experimenting with the subject of their stories. One of the artists I knew had created a Kaavad with a story about Guru Nanak when he had travelled to Chandigarh. They also make commissioned pieces and experiment with the colours; initially, it was mostly red and yellow.”

A panel from the travelogue in making. courtesy vidyun Sabhaney & Shohei Emura

Bring life to a story
Another form of storytelling studied by Sabhaney was Togalu Gombeyatta from Karnataka. This form uses painted leather puppets for narration. “What is interesting about this form is that the puppets have entire scenes painted on them rather than individual puppets for each character. Though this has changed today as several performers are using individual puppets rather than the traditional panel ones,” says Sabhaney. The third form is the Bengali Pattachitra, which uses painted scrolls to tell stories. “Pattachitras are being used by several publishing houses today to create books,” informs Sabhaney.

Sabhaney and Emura are also working on a travelogue based on their research trip, which will be in the form of a comic book. “The beauty of these storytelling performances is that they can be integrated in different mediums, be it paintings or more marketable options such as comic books and even animation. This definitely gives an impetus to those who practise them to continue their art,” says Sabhaney. We hope they continue to do so.

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