Odisha Murals: Saura Tribal Art

Sauras are among the most ancient tribes of India, finding a mention in the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Ram’s devotee Savari in Ramayana and Jara, the hunter in Mahabharata who mortally wounded Krishna, are believed to have been members of this tribe.

Saura Tribal Art_1Like other tribes of India, the unique style, diversity and detail of their lives is etched in paintings created by the tribe. Saura painting is a style of wall mural painting associated with the Saura tribe of Odisha, India. These paintings, also called ikons, hold religious significance for the tribe, usually as a dedication to their main deity Idital (also edital). Recurring motifs in these paintings are the Tree of Life, animals like horses, elephants, elements of nature like the sun and moon and the people of the tribe.

Given the religious significance of these paintings for the tribe, these are worshipped during religious and special cultural occasions such as harvest, child-birth, marriage or even the construction of a new house. Within a new dwelling, these paintings are created in a dark corner inside the home, and the process of creating them is accompanied by the recital of prayers.

Saura Tribal Art_2The backdrop of these paintings is first prepared from red or yellow ochre earth. Then the scene is painted over using brushes crafted from locally available tender bamboo shoots.

Saura Tribal Art_3Saura paintings employ a fish-net approach, where the border is created first, and then the motifs close inwards. This makes them different from Warli paintings of Maharashtra to which Saura paintings are often compared. Though both of these employ stick figures, while Warli paintings use triangles to depict the human body, the figures are not as sharply delineated in Saura paintings. Also, unlike the Warli paintings where male and female icons are clearly distinguishable, in Saura art there is no such physical differentiation.

The Sauras today are a languishing tribe, suffering from malnutrition, among other ills. And yet their vivid paintings are a reminder to not let this tribe and their lives be lost in oblivion.