Kundana Bai: The Patron Saint of the Kavad

Extrapolated from “Kapaat” or “Kivaad” meaning one-sided door, or wooden door panels opening up to reveal different sides, the word “Kaavad” has come to signify doors which open into stories today. This box brimming with tales comes alive due to the collaborative efforts of the carpenters, painters, storytellers, and patrons — all of whom play key roles within the Kavad tradition. 


Although Kavads today have begun branching out into different forms of expressions, historically its origins have been traced to folkloric renditions of encounters between Gods and living beings. While most of us are now familiar with the story of Shravan often referred to when talking about Kavad history, another central figure in the ethos is Kundana Bai. Considered as the patron saint of the Kavad, the Suthar community— the primary community of carpenters that makes the Kavad — often depict her imagery in these story-boxes.


Despite the repeated appearance of Kundana Bai in artworks, very little literature regarding her own self as a person is available. One reason for this could be the very nature of oral history that is considered “unreliable,” however, to conclude it in this manner would be premature since Kavad itself has been sustained through oral means.


In this light then, Kundana Bai’s seemingly elusive figure can be found in instances in artists’ works. Take for instance, the kaam of well-recognised Kavad artist Satyanarayan Suthar a story — telling carpenter artist who resides in Bassi, Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan. Full of imagination, light, and traditional imagery, S. Suthar's life and artworks which have been the subject of studies by craft designers and art historians alike, one repeated motif in his paintings is the figure of Kundana Bai. Clad in white and sometimes clothes of color, Kundana Bai remains at the center — of not just the Kavad but also in the artists’ life.


A cursory glance at S.Suthar’s work will show viewers her figure either at the center or in hidden compartments— yet, always present. She is often depicted in a three-person body: a little girl, a young woman, and an old lady. 


An article by Puneetinder Kaur, Outlook (2022) locates Kundana Bai amidst folklore as a person with “special powers” who granted boons every day by being reborn as an infant in the morning, a girl by midday, a woman by evening, and an old person by nightfall. In other renditions, she is seen as a Brahmin devotee (sometimes a priest) of Kashi who is immortal. As the lore goes, you can never see Kundana Bai, only hear her. Alternatively, it is also said that women are able to see her.


Kundana Bai: The Patron Saint of the Kavad
  Fig. 1 Kundana Bai's three forms (Illustrated by Prashant Vilayil)


 One possible explanation for this could be the ascetic tradition of enlightened persons being celibate or perhaps even a figure imagined for a particular audience (here, women). Nevertheless, her name still holds reverence today that usually married women of Rajasthan donate their clothes so as to be “eternal brides” like Kundana!


 Kundana Bai’s mythical attributes extend to the Kaavadiyas too who trace the “Kavad as shrine” back to her. She is supposed to have created the Kavad and gifted it to the Kaavadiya Bhats as a means to livelihood. So predominant is this story that every Kavad has a small compartment at the bottom where jajamans offer gifts of cash, clothes, food etc. From these offerings, it is said that Kundana Bai asked the storytellers to allocate enough money to always feed and look after the welfare of cows. As per a blog maintained by Nina Sabnani, after Kundana Bai’s samadhi, the Kavaadiyas began looking for artists in Rajasthan to make Kavads for them, thus meeting the Suthar community of Mewar. She also states that this narrative of Kundana Bai is inscribed in the front doors of the Kavad shrine so as to ensure that her legacy carries forward across generations. 


Kundana Bai: The Patron Saint of the Kavad
Fig. 2 Kundana Bai's love for cows (Illustrated by Prashant Vilayil) 


We finally circumnavigate back to S. Suthar and his Kavad art which blends in devotional faith with modern interpretations. In an intricate monochromatic Kavad commissioned by a patron for which he gave an interview in an article titled “Myths, Legends and Alphabets” (2017), he explained that though the right door opened to the Bhakt Paath i.e., the way of the faithful where gods like Krishna, Ganesh were drawn, other sections were dedicated to picturing common people and their realities.


And so, in a democratizing move gods and deities reside alongside “the carpenter, the jeweller, the printer, the weaver, the cobbler, the potter, the farmer, and even the prostitute. All are equal in their faith and devotion.” And, in the center, overseeing them all, is Kundana Bai


  1. D'source Kundana Bai’s gift to the Kaavadiyas
  2. Boxful of Tales
  3. https://obsidianspace.in/kavad-katha-storytelling-from-rajasthan/amp/?pdf=3240
  4. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/_gVR_cr0drCgLg
  5. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/wQVRdcVEfI99IA



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