Sohrai Paintings

A matriarchal art inspired by rock arts of the regions of Hazaribagh, done totally using natural earth by women of the household during the festival of ‘Sohrai’ to worship the God of animals, “Pashupati” and welcome good harvest.
Sohrai is the festival celebrating plough agriculture done by cattle as well as the domestication of the cow. The art on the walls painted by the Devis marks a distinct change from Khovar in that it celebrates a male god, Pashupati, the lord of animals. The name pashu means animals, and pati is the father of animals, or image maker of animals, creator of animals. It is celebrated the day after Divali and is connected with the return of Lord Ram. In the murals in the village Prajapati is shown standing on the back of the bull, very Sumerian in design, thus suggesting a link with West Asia and the Sohrai art of the Nile valley as well as Warli art. This is a Hinduised iconic art. The body of Prajapati is in a shape akin to Shiva’s drum (damru) and around him is a wheel of six lotuses representing the six senses, and we are reminded of the enigmatic yogi An from the Mohenjodaro seal, who was obviously the chief deity of the Indus valley.
The most interesting aspect of the Hazaribagh animal and bird forms and the most striking quality they possess are the relationships between the forms themselves, and the relationships between the birds and animals with their young, a trait found in the Indus painted forms. This relationship is of a purely matriarchal nature, such as deer and goats feeding their young, or birds feeding their chicks with fish and insects. There are interesting relationships between the animals themselves, such as a peacock or mongoose fighting with a snake, or snakes fighting among themselves, or the mother peacock with a young chick on its back, peacocks fighting, or a peahen breaking an egg. The knowledge of plant life is extensive, as would be expected of jungle-dwellers. These murals are of a matriarchal tradition and the art painted on the houses is done by the village women and young girls, whom they apprentice in a handed down parampara tradition, when the young girls learn the art forms and convert them to memory. They take them to their husband’s home, which possesses other art forms of its own. One can see a range of stylistic differences in a village home, in which various sisters-in-laws and the old mother-in-law herself have brought stylistic trends from another village.
Sohrai is the harvest festival art. The name itself comes from an ancient word, soro, meaning literally to drive with a stick. It is the festival of the early winter months when the paddy has ripened and is about to be harvested. Thus it is connected with the origin of agriculture. Among the Kurmi people in the Bhelwara area the cattle have been taken out to the jungles very early in the morning, and washed after grazing in the forest ponds. Then they are brought back ceremonially to the village where they are welcomed with special painted carpets called aripan.
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(Courtesy: Shri Bulu Imam)