India is known for its rich history, culture and heritage. We value the traditions passed on to us from our ancestors. Sohrai and Kohvar paintings are one such tribal art forms from the Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. Recently, the Indian Geographical Indications Registry has granted Geographical Indication (GI) tags to protect the authenticity of these paintings. These traditional and ritualistic mural art forms are usually practiced by women of the villages. Mothers teach the paintings to their daughters in the tribe as a matriarchal tradition.
The term ‘Sohrai’ refers to the winter harvest festival celebrated in the month of October-November every year. The paintings derive their name from this festival. The tribal women paint designs inspired by nature such as birds, flowers, cows, squirrels, etc., on the mud walls of their house. The tribes believe that Marang Buru, the God of the mountain, Jaher ayo, the Goddess of the forest who is considered the elder sister of the Santhal tribe would pay them a visit from heaven. Hence, women paint the walls to welcome and thank them for the harvest.
Meanwhile, ‘Koh’ means cave and ‘var’ means husband. As the name suggests, it is a traditional mural art to decorate the marriage chamber of newlywed couples. These paintings are usually done during the spring season where most weddings occur. Kohvar paintings revolve around the theme of female-male bonding, reproduction and magic and sorcery. They are depicted by symbols of tortoises, animal-eaters, turtles, fish, peacock and lotus that portray the growth of the race into the next generation. Some paintings also carry human figures and images of Lord Shiva. People paint both the outer and inner walls of the house.
Initially, they coat the walls of the house with white mud. Women draw their designs on the wall when the mud coating is still wet. They follow a specific pattern when they draw. All women start their painting with a red coloured line. It represents their ancestors’ blood, procreation and fertility. They then proceed to draw a black line. This line signifies Lord Shiva and eternal dead stone. All the other outer lines that follow denotes their traditional values of fidelity, chastity and protection.
They use only natural pigments with mud to bring colour to the painting. The white colour represents food. They make the white mud by grounding previous year’s rice with milk into a gruel form. The white mud is known as Duddhi matti or Charak matti. They also use other natural pigments such as kali matti (manganese black), pila matti (yellow ochre) and Lal matti or geru (red oxide). Women usually paint the walls using their fingertips as a brush. They also use broken comb pieces, chewed wooden tooth-sticks of sal (datwan) or cloth swabs to paint.
Let us enjoy and appreciate some Sohrai and Kohvar paintings.
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