Sawantwadi and Kudal: Where art and heritage are nurtured

There are various reasons for travelling. Some travel to unwind, some to explore a new place, some for adventure and for as a pilgrimage. There is another aspect to travel – to discover the art and culture of a place, and India offers tremendous scope in this direction.


The small town of Sawantwadi in Maharashtra is one such place. This place which is just 60 kilometers from Panaji, Goa, is replete with history and art. The town is situated around a lake called Moti Talao. The one sight that immediately got my attention is the placement of Nirmalya pots near the lake. In these pots people can throw the flowers and other puja related items which are otherwise thrown in water. Thus, these pots are the best alternative to save our water bodies. Such pots are quite common in some parts of Maharashtra and from here I got an idea to place such pots at various immersion points in and around Panaji during the famous Ganesh Chaturthi. All thanks to Tallulah D’Silva for taking it forward

These Nirmalya pots are kept around the lake in Sawantwadi


As soon as you enter the main town of Sawantwadi you come across a facade of red laterite stones. This is the famous Sawantwadi Palace, which was built in the era of Khem Sawant Bhonsale III (1755-1803), and which presently is the royal residence of Satvashila Devi. Sawantwadi was formerly the capital of the Kingdom of Sawantwadi, ruled by the royal clan of the Marathas – the Bhonsales.


Presently, Sawantwadi comes under the Municipal Corporation, but erstwhile queen Satvashila Devi is an intrinsic part of the place. She has not only maintained the heritage palace but also the art and craft of the place.

The palace is open to tourists. In the darbar hall, you will come across a few artists busy drawing. They make the famous ganjifa cards, which are based on the Dashavatar – the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu – a tradition that goes back more than 300 years. A set of Dashavatar ganjifa consists of 120 cards. The box in which the set of cards is stored is also specially designed with pictures and decorative motifs. It is believed that ganjifa is related to Chitari art that was started in Goa by the Chitari community of Cuncolim in south Goa.

Gangifa cards are seen in the background

There is also an interesting collection of wooden artefacts at the palace which include not only the famous wooden fruits used in the matoli during Ganesh Chaturthi (which is celebrated in the month of August or September, mainly in Goa and Maharashtra) but also many day-to-day items like chairs, tables, decorative pieces. One can also buy the same at the palace.


If this experience makes you more curious about the handicraft, then you can head to the the village of Pinguli near Kudal, 25 kilometers from Sawantwadi. The village is home to traditional folk artistes of the Thakar Adivasi community who are involved with Pinguli art – Chitragathi, Zaiti or Kal Sutli (string puppetry), shadow puppetry with leather puppets, Pangil bael, etc. The art basically deals with the telling of stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Shadow puppetry

The Thakar Adivasi community received patronage not only of Raja Khemsawant Bhonsale of the erstwhile princely state of Sawantwadi, but also that of Maratha king Shivaji in the 17th Century. They were appointed by Shivaji for political espionage, as they travelled from village to village down the Konkan coast up to Karwar in Karnataka. These artists travelled for six months and performed at village gatherings. In exchange they got food and shelter for that day and were gifted rice and grain, which they carried back home. With modernisation and migration for better living these art forms are dying.

To understand this folk form better one must visit the Thakar Adivasi Kala Aangan (Museum and Art Gallery). Here you will meet Parshuram Aatmaram Gangavane, a member of the Thakar Adivasi community and part of the Thakar Adivasi Kala Aangan. He is working hard towards taking the legacy forward. He has set up the art village to provide this folk art with a platform and to teach children the art so as to keep it alive. It is now supported by the Mumbai-based organisation, Aangan. Such initiatives bring back hopes of reviving traditions and it depends on the people to nourish it rather than just government schemes.

I believe that such small hamlets has lots to offer when it comes to art and craft. Some of the best examples of art are found in temples. Thus, while coming back, we came across this small temple which is filled with designs which are usually associated with Kaavi art. It is basically  etching on walls with traditional materials -kaav, charcoal and red soil. You can read about it here


All pics by Om Prabhugaonkar

 The edited version of this article was first published on The Navhind Times Zest BUZZ Weekender on July 25, 2015


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