2008 01 Prajapati Khovar, Vill.Kharati, Barkagaon (39)

Part of my ongoing fascination with folk art is based on a desire to find a visual language to develop my own version of the inland waterway boat man’s decorated Water Can…

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It’s something I’m tentatively calling ‘Journey Cans’. In my research I’ve come across the art of Khovar and Sohrai.

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The wall paintings of the Hazaribagh area in Jharkhand, Central India are considered auspicious symbolic presences and intimately related to fertility and fecundity. The two major stylistic divisions are based on the harvest and marriage seasons; and the three major painting techniques are comb-cut; finger-cut and painting.

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Traditionally householder/artists in Jharkhand avoided synthetic colours, Sohrai artists use red, black, yellow and white soils, cow dung, coal and powdered leaves to make colours. Instead of brushes the artists use brooms and combs to draw through pigment and apply paint.

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Khovar or the Comb-Cut art is mainly done during the marriage season. Khovar is made by applying a coat of black mud to the walls of dwellings, and then when dry, a coat of kaolin rich white mud is applied . Once the double coating is dry, a ‘comb-type tool’ is used to scrape back the white layer to reveal the black earth beneath.

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Sohrai is the winter harvest art and is painted using cloth swabs or chewed twigs of the local Saal tree. Many of the designs are archetypes and can be compared with prehistoric rock art and pottery markings.

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The imagery is inspired by direct experience of nature.

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Much of the painting is done in darkened inner rooms

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The derivation of Khovar is ‘Kho’ or ‘Koh’ meaning a cave or room and ‘var’ meaning bride. Hence, Khovar a celebration of fertility and fecundity in marriage.

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This is a symbolic-sacred artform of signs that carry multiple meanings, nothing is quite what it seems. The house (mother earth) it covered with black earth (representing the womb); the black earth is covered with the white earth called Dudhi (or milk) (representing the father god and the symbols of sperm and light). When the white is covered entirely over the black earth and cut with a comb, the result is seen as a transformation of inert earth into an expression of the mother goddess.

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Forest-dwelling tribes shave forest forms into their artworks, sketching the tiger, deer, elephant, peacock, and snake.

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River-valley and plains-dwelling agricultural tribes shave domestic animal forms like the cow, bull, goat, fowl, pigeon, peacock and lotus.

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The peacock motif is particularly potent as it symbolises fertility, and a pregnant peacock is seen as an auspicious motif for a nuptial chamber.

Sohrai, from an ancient Paleolithic word, soro, meaning to drive with a stick. celebrates fertility in the harvest.

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In Sohrai art, the red line is drawn first. It represents the ‘blood of the ancestors’, procreation and fertility. The next line is black which signifies eternal dead stone and mark of the god, Shiva. The next all-encompassing outer line stands in its traditional values of protection, fidelity and chastity. The white is painted with the last year’s rice, ground with milk into a gruel. This represents food.

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Popular Sohrai motifs are animals, birds, lizards, elephants and Pashupati (the creator of all animals), who is usually shown riding on the back of an animal.The elephant is also a symbol of paddy clan and an auspicious symbol connected with the harvest.

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These enigmatic forms drawn freehand by women householder/artists bring together a direct experience of the local landscape with a mythical, symbolic, supernatural world of transformation – it’s a breathtaking interweaving of both an inner and outer worldview.

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