Jharkhand, the land of forests, gained statehood in the year 2000. It shares its borders with Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. 30% of its population is tribal and the land is known for its hills, waterfalls and holy places. Chau, Santhali, Mundari and Jhamair are popular folk dances. Folk art is commonly seen on the walls of mud layered homes in the villages and semi urban areas. Some of the most popularly practiced folk art include – Sohrai, Jadopatia, Payatkar, Kohvar apart from Ganju, Kurmi, Turi, Birhor, Bhuiya, Munda and Ghatwal art. The present article presents a summary of the first four folk arts of Jharkhand.
Sohrai is the art of harvest festival in autumn using red, black, yellow and white earth. Large images are painted with twigs on walls- bull, horseriders, wild animals, trees, lotuses, peacocks and deities. These paintings bring good luck and prosperity. The harvest season is celebrated by the tribal communities, Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Prajapati, Khurmi etc, in the month of October -November every year in Jharkhand and West Bengal. This is to welcome the winter harvest and their goddess of wealth along with being grateful to the forces of nature. The women decorate the house walls with white mud, repair them after rains and make designs of sparrows, flowers, fruits, cows, peacock, squirrels and other forms of flora and fauna. The paint is natural in composition – dudhi mitti – white mud, pila mitti – yellow ochre, lal mitti or geru and kali mitti – manganese black. Cloth, comb or chewed sticks are used to apply the paint. The painting tradition is handed down from mother to daughter. The painted walls are revered and represent fertility. The first color is red, representing the blood of ancestors. Next is black denoting Lord shiva and white is made from last year’s rice ground with milk. he women of farming communities of Hazaribagh practice mural painting, a traditional ritual art form.
Kohvar is the art of marriage season when the walls of houses and particularly the bridal room are decorated. A layer of wet cream coloured earth (dudhi mitti) is painted over and undercoat of black earth and designs are cut with bits of combs or the fingers exposing black patterns on white. Comb cutting resembles the ‘sgraffito’ technique of Greece and the incised pottery of Indus Valley and Iran. They are drawn for prosperous married life of the new couple. Kohvar painting is practiced by women to celebrate the wedding season. It is typically painted on the bridal chamber and walls in the house where wedding is going to take place. ‘Koh’ means ‘cave’ and ‘var’ means ‘groom’, ‘kohvar’ translates into ‘bridal room’. Apart from Jharkhand, the painting is also popular in Mithila community in Bihar. The wall art is made wishing for happiness, good luck and prosperity for the newlywed couple. Flora and fauna, peacocks and leaves are most popular motifs. Traditionally all colors are made from natural sources, mud, trees and plants.
Artists make narrative scrolls called the ‘jado’ or ‘jadopatia’ for the santhals of Dumka district. They depict santhal creational myth, the tiger god and scenes from the afterlife, originally drawn in natural inks and colours. These paintings are believed to have magical and healing powers. Earlier the paintings were done on cloth and natural colors but now paper is used with chemical colors. Few themes of jadopatia paintings include – life in death’s kingdom, Creation of the Santhal tradition, The festival of Bahajatras, Mass meeting for dancing by santhals, Huma rider with tiger or leopard and adventures of Lord Krishna.
People from Payatkar community, Singhbhum district, wander and reach a house where a person has recently died or a new born baby is born. They tell stories and sing songs of self-composed lyrics. The artisans paint on soiled and used papers using vermillion and natural colours. Colour is applied with the aid of a needle or hairs of a goat. Tales of Garur Puran, Ramayana and Mahabharata form the essence of these paintings.
The way ahead
Sohrai and Kohvar have been accorded the GI (Geographical Indication) tag in the year 2021. In Jharkhand, several flyovers, roadsides, gardens, airport and other public places have been decorated with the traditional paintings by renowned artists celebrating the folk painting traditions of the state. Sohrai art is also the state art of Jharkhand. Hazaribagh and Jamshedpur railway station have walls adorned with Sohrai and Kohvar paintings. The government and state owned organisations such as Jharcraft have been trying to promote local artisans by giving them a platform to sell decorative interior products made from traditional methods. The local artisans are in need of promotion, online and offline retail, local and global exposure.