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Rediscovering Kaavi Art: A Hidden Gem of Goan Folklore

When one thinks of Goa, golden beaches, delicious seafood, floral prints, drinks, and dance often come to mind. Some might also mention the many churches and architectural sites. However, few think of Goa’s rich artistic heritage, especially its Kaavi art. India's new generation contemporary artist Shantala Palat explores a side of Goa often overlooked amid the allure of its beaches and tourist attractions – the captivating tradition of Kaavi Kale, a folk art hidden in plain sight.

 


what is goa's kaavi art explains Shatala Palat


What is Kaavi Art?


"Kaavi" refers to the maroon-red pigment, known locally as 'uramunji,' derived from laterite soil.

Kaavi art is an enchanting mural tradition flourishing in the Konkan region, especially on the old structures and temples of Goa. With its intricate reddish-brown designs, Kaavi Kale, as it is traditionally known, reflects the region's rich history. This art form involves meticulously carving lime plaster on a surface treated with red oxide, creating intricate murals and motifs inspired by local folklore.

 

What are its origins and evolution?


Despite its stunning beaches and vibrant shops, Goa’s harsh climate—with up to 90% humidity and about 150 inches of monsoon rainfall—makes painted walls unsuitable. The natives, recognizing this, developed more durable art forms for their architecture, using affordable, readily available local materials.

One theory is that Kaavi art originated from the Saraswati plains and was brought to Goa around 600 years ago by Saraswats fleeing political and environmental challenges.


Regardless of its origins, Kaavi Kale is undeniably labour-intensive, requiring patience and skill to create intricate monochrome motifs that endure time and nature’s unpredictability.

 

What are its techniques and processes?


Did you ever think such captivating designs could be created with just two colors? That’s the beauty of Kaavi art. Let’s dive into this fascinating process. It begins with using locally available materials to prepare the wall for plastering. Artists create Snow White Lime by burning seashells, mixing the result with jaggery and clean river sand, and fermenting it for two weeks. This mixture, when hand-pounded and applied, hardens to shield the walls from rain while adding aesthetic value.


Next, the final layer, or ‘Kaavi layer,’ is prepared by combining sieved red laterite soil and lime putty in a 4:0.5 ratio. This mixture is finely ground to a butter-like consistency and left to ferment for two days with regular mixing.


The mural etching begins immediately after applying the Kaavi plaster, allowing for design adjustments before it dries. Artists use tools like a timber compass, stencils, and handmade kanta (steel bodkins) to etch the wet surface, revealing the white plaster beneath and creating a striking design.


After drying for a day, the artwork undergoes a weekly curing routine. Every four hours, the artists spray it with water and polish it with smooth river pebbles.


Why all this effort? To prevent cracks and ensure these murals endure for a long time.

In Kaavi Kale, the primary elements include mythological characters, geometric patterns, and common figures like men in boots, with guns, and wearing topis, symbolizing British rulers. The artwork also depicts Brahmins performing pooja, dancers, and scenes of contemporary life.

The portrayal of gods and goddesses includes distinctive features such as nose rings, elaborate hairstyles, ornaments, and the unique nine-yard saree tucked at the back. The meticulous detailing extends to their graceful, elongated fingers and intricate jewelry.

 

Fun Fact


If you visit temples in Honavar, Sirsi, or Ankola in Karnataka, you’ll likely see Kaavi art on the temple walls. Why?

Temple priests believe that families fled Goa in the 16th century to escape forced conversions, bringing their deities and temple art, including Kaavi, with them. As conditions improved, this art returned to Goa, incorporating motifs and figures of the Yakshagana dancer from Karnataka into Goan temples. Isn’t that fascinating?

 

Where in Goa is Kaavi Art Found?


Kaavi art traditionally adorned the walls, columns, and ceilings of temples and homes, featuring geometric patterns like circles, triangles, and hexagons. This art form embellished shrines, temples, churches, and mosques along the Malwan, Konkan, and North Malabar coasts, uniting people across languages and religions.

Notable examples include the Sri Morjaie temple in Morjim, Sri Vijaydurg Temple in Keri, and the Sri Hanuman Shrine in Advalpale. The Charles Correa Foundation documented 21 temples and four houses in Goa with Kaavi art, particularly in Pernem, Sattari, Canacona, and Ponda.


Despite its historical significance, many Kaavi masterpieces are hidden due to building renovations and community migrations. Sadly, the art in many small Goan temples is often neglected, defaced, or vandalized.


Attempts to Revive an Artistic Tradition


There is hope for Kaavi art's resurgence, thanks to renewed interest and support from historians and architects. Artist Sagar Naik Mule gained attention after showcasing his Kaavi artwork at a G-20 event in Goa in August 2023. He noted that public unfamiliarity with Kaavi art stems from a lack of awareness and communication.


The government is actively revitalizing this art form by including Kaavi art in a new history textbook for students, a first in the state’s syllabus. This initiative aims to educate and engage students through internal projects.


Despite no new Kaavi art being produced in the past 15 years, recent efforts offer hope. The Goa board recognized the importance of promoting Kaavi art after Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed its revival on "Mann Ki Baat" on December 26, 2021. The first restoration step was taken at the Saptakoteshwar temple in Naroa.

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