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Modern touch to an ancient art

Kaavi Kala

Many forms of art have come back from the depths of the civilisation and have seen the light of modern society, many of them saw their revival in the 19th and 20th centuries in the country, but we now have a case of revival of an ancient art form in our own times — the Kaavi Kala, a centuries-old mural art form seen on the Konkan Coast.

Kaavi Kala has been a medium for depicting the great epics of India and the mystic mythologies and legends. This art can be found along the coast of Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat, mainly in places populated by the Saraswath communities. “In the last part of the 20th century, the art form had become stagnant for some time. But it is now on a revival path, with artists, researchers and Kaavi Kala aficionados in both social and religious segments joining hands,” says Veena Srinivas, an accomplished artist in Kaavi Kala has been working with enthusiasts in coastal Karnataka.

“Well-known artists like Ganjifa Raghupathi Bhat, Ravi Hirebettu and Purushottam Adve in the coastal Karnataka have contributed greatly for the continuance
of this art form. At a school-level workshop on Kaavi Kala, Sanjana Kamath, a Class
10 student, showed great interest in this art form. She has already picked up the technique of Kaavi Kala, which brings hopes that Kaavi Kala will survive,” says Veena.

The late Krishnanand Kamat, a researcher of Kaavi Kala, in his book Kaavikale in Kannada and Konkyanigele Kavikala in Konkani, has elaborately explained the practice of Kaavi Kala. The evolution of Kaavi Kala has been attributed to the necessity of preserving the art, nothing else but Kaavi Kala could sustain the high moisture content in the coastal region.

Special amalgam

Artists of Kaavi Kala in the classical times used an amalgam of jaggery, white seashells, red pigment drawn from mud, finely ground sand and many other ingredients which we do not know much about now. The last traditional Kaavi Kala artist who knew about this special amalgam is said to have died seven decades back, since then, the artists have taken to modern materials like canvas, paper, acrylic, oil and water paints as their medium. 

“Since Kaavi Kala has found new material and medium, the artists can now paint it just anywhere, which is why the art form is regaining its past glory and the present generation of artists are enchanted about it,” says Veena.

Kaavi Kala is generally found in the temples of Goa and coastal Karnataka where the Sarasawaths’ presence is more. It is also used to decorate the traditional houses of Saraswaths. Some of the temples known for this art are the Mangueshi Temple in Mardol, Marikamba Temple in Sirsi, Mahalasa Narayani in Ponda and Kumta, Shantadurga Temple in Kavalem, Quepem and Pernem and also in the Madey Mallikarjuna Temple in Canacona. 

Recreating the works

“In many Kaavi Kala art murals, the artists have brought three-dimensional effect but they have not etched their names on the murals. In the modern world of Kaavi Kala, we are trying to recreate the works of the past masters with our limited understanding, modern methods and media,” Veena says. Oral historians of Uttara Kannada such as Mukund Joglekar of Gokarna and Prasad Rao Badkar of Kumta say that there are many old Kaavi Kala artists still working to restore temple murals, but are yet to find recognition. At the same time, some of the old buildings including the houses of prominent people that had Kaavi Kala murals are fading out and some of the houses have been razed down to make way for modern buildings. 

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