The art of painting walls in India is centuries old. There are many styles of wall painting art depending on the culture of the people varying from different states and regions of the country. Today, we will be talking about one of the oldest art forms of wall painting that has continued since 10,000-4,000 BC; “Khovar and Sohrai”: The Marriage and Harvest Art of Jharkhand.
Initially, the Khovar and Sohrai paintings were done on the caves which were later practised on the walls of the house as the civilisation took place. The Khovar and Sohrai paintings are also known as the wall paintings of Hazaribagh. The wall paintings of the Hazaribagh area in Jharkhand, Central India are considered auspicious symbolic presences and intimately related to fertility and fecundity.
Khovar: The Marriage Art
“Khovar art” the name is derived from the word “Kho or Koh” meaning cave and “Var” meaning groom. The Khovar art is mainly done during the wedding season from January to June. This wall painting art is done in the brides and grooms house, where the rituals are performed. The special room of the house where the newly wedded couple will sleep is painted and decorated. The Khovar art is done by the mother of bride or groom, married women or Devi’s. These women first prepare the base of the house wall with black mud (kali matti), which is then given a second coat of milky white mud (dudhi matti). This layer is then scraped off with the four fingers, broken pieces of combs or bamboo strips, while the dudhi matti is still wet. The comb cutting technique is similar to the “Sgraffito” technique of Greece and the incised pottery technique found in Iran and the Indus valley. Thus revealing the black undercoat, hence the designs are painted. The walls are painted with elaborate design animal and plant form motifs, and fertility motifs. These designs are abundant and often reflect the ancient cave art found in the region. These paintings may be sacred or secular but are relevant to a woman’s world. With the increasing urbanisation and the negligence of the younger generation to continue with their traditions, only a handful of villages are left where people still paint the walls of their houses. Khovar paintings are delicate and beautiful, but the art form faces the threat of extinction.
Sohrai: The Harvest Art
The Sohrai art is also known as harvest art as it is done one day after Diwali festival for celebrating good harvest. During the celebrations the cattle is worshipped as the Goddess of wealth. Sohrai celebrates fertility in the harvest. This harvest art is a painted art-form, where the walls are painted with animal motifs. Popular Sohrai motifs are animals, birds, lizards, elephants and Pashupati (the creator of all animals), who is usually shown riding on the back of an animal. The elephant is also a symbol of paddy clan and an auspicious symbol connected with the harvest. The Sohrai painting is done by the women of the house they use black mud (kali matti ), white mud (dudhi matti) / Charak mati , red mud (Geru), and yellow mud (pila matti) to layer the walls. The designs are then painted using chewed saal wood tooth-sticks (datwan) or cloth swabs daubed in the different earthy colours. In Sohrai art, the red line is drawn first as it represents the ‘blood of the ancestors’, procreation and fertility. The next line is black which signifies eternal dead stone and mark of the God, Shiva. The next all-encompassing outer line stands in its traditional values of protection, fidelity, and chastity. The white is painted with the last year’s rice, ground with milk into a gruel, this represents food.
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Sohrai Paintings to Revive Ranchi City Walls:
Sohrai paintings are making talk of the times in the Jharkhand state capital Ranchi. With the rise in the tribal art form’s popularity, the state art and culture department plans to paint the walls of government buildings, railway stations and airports with colorful murals of Khovar and Sohrai paintings. The plan to use Sohrai art form for decorating government offices and public buildings was invigorated by the Indian tourism department.
Sohrai Artwork Displayed at Ranchi Airport
In 2009, the art form made its presence felt when an over-bridge at Katru was painted by Reshma Dutta, a renowned terracotta artisan from Bundu in Ranchi. The terracotta tiles painted with Sohrai motifs and techniques were installed on both sides of the bridge, in collaboration with Jharcraft.
Also, in the same year around 20 tribal woman artistes from Hazaribagh had painted the outer walls of Birsa Munda zoological garden with murals, inspired by Khovar and Sohrai art forms. The murals are native to Hazaribagh, Chatra, Koderma and Dumka areas. The paintings are traditionally linked to the winter harvest festival when tribal farmers repair and decorate their homes.
“It took around a month for the group, commissioned by the state tourism department, to paint the walls with 174 panels. It was a brilliant piece of Khovar and Sohrai art work done but unfortunately, large parts of it are not recognizable anymore due vandalism, lack of maintenance by zoo authorities and other natural factors. These murals need to be preserved so that tourists should be able to witness the traditional Khovar and Sohrai art form.