The Comb-Cut Paintings of Jharkhand: Sohrai and Khovar -

The Khovar and Sohrai paintings are an indigenous art form of Hazaribagh whose origins can be traced back to the cave painting tradition during a transient phase between the Mesolithic and chalcolithic age in Hazaribagh. The traditional paintings have motifs which are common to both the ages. The paintings are traditionally made as mural tradition. Sohrai is the winter harvest festival celebrated a day after Diwali. It is done annually after the monsoons when the paddy fields are ready. The word Sohrai is derived from ‘soh’ which means to drive away and ‘rai’ which means a stick. The paintings mark the start of domestication of the cattle and agriculture. The Khovar paintings derive its name from ‘kho’ which means cave and ‘vara’ which means the bridal couple. These paintings are done during the marriage season. These paintings are considered auspicious and are painted with symbols of fertility and prosperity.

Sohrai art

(Image source: Hindu)

The paintings can be made using different techniques such as scrapping using four fingers, with broken pieces of combs, with twigs and cloth swab stencils.

The sgraffito technique is where a black manganese base is prepared and a coat of white soil is applied over it. The white soil is scratched using a comb to create the motifs.

sohrai art

 Image source - Deccan Herald

The techniques used to make the motifs, and the motifs themselves differ from village to village. The difference is evident in the Sohrai done in the hill villages of Kurmis and Ganjus and the ones done in the plains of kharati, barhmaniya etc. However, what remains same is the material which is used to make the paintings, i.e., common earth. The paintings are made using black, white, red and yellow soils. These are found near the village sites, except white which is collected from the chuna khaans or the lime mines. Black is collected from the edges of the fields near forests, yellow is the common earth nagri which is also used by the potters, and red is the geru.

Sohrai artist Rukmani

Sohrai artist Rukmani

Characteristics of Sohrai- Kohvar paintings

The paintings initially appear ornamented, while on a closer look one can make out that the objects depicted are quite simple.

The Kohvar murals venerate the Devi while the Sohrai murals worship the Pashupati, or the lord of animals. 

The paintings also depict There is also a similarity of motifs made in the Sohrai and Kohvar paintings and the Isco rock art, Hazaribagh, such as the depiction of spotted wheeled animals during the harvest Sohrai paintings.

Motifs similar to the Sohrai paintings also appear on the Indus seals and the painted pottery of Iran and Mesopotamia.

Kamla baan or a forest of lotuses and tree of life. The wild animals depicted in the paintings are Indian bison, humped cattle, tiger, wild boar, nilgai, Indian rhinoceros etc.

There is a relationship between the forms depicted, as seen between the birds and animals with their young ones, and amongst themselves. This relationship is often matriarchal in nature, which is inspired from the matriarchal aspect of the society itself.

Here is a Pashupati song verse:

When the oil lamps of Divali are over

Then the lord of the animals, Pashupati,

Comes with the animals from the forest.

The song of the three wise men is like this:

Where have I seen such a beautiful horse?

Where have I seen such a beautiful cow?

Where have I seen such a beautiful family?

You are the beautiful sacrificial cow, Such a beautiful horse, such a beautiful cow!

Such a beautiful family, such a beautiful cow,

Such a beautiful horse, such a beautiful cow,

Such a beautiful family cow


(Image Source: Deccan Herald)

The art of Sohrai received international recognition through exhibitions ever since the DAP grant in 1993 through which INTACH brought the Sohrai mural art to paper, but it only received national recognition in 2008 with the founding of Virasat Trust. The Sohrai paintings and the efforts of the women Sohrai artist was praised by Shri Narendra Modi in the national radio show “Mann ki baat” gathering the attention of the local administration. The Sohrai paintings have received the geographical indication tag from the government of India in 2019. This would help its promotion and conservation.

Bibliography and Further reads

  • Comparative traditions in village painting and prehistoric rock art of Jharkhand by Bulu Imam
  • The Hindu

~ Written by  Misha Jaiswal



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