Sohrai, the biggest festivals of Santhals in the Indian state of Jharkhand, is celebrated during the same time when the Hindus celebrate Diwali. The morning after Diwali, the Adivasis across Jharkhand celebrate their festival — Sohrai. It is celebrated when the paddy has ripened and is about to be harvested. Thus it is connected with the origin of agriculture.
In this two-day festival, the cattle and their God — Pashupati — are worshiped to ensure the fertility of the land and the subsequent harvest. Cattle helps in crop cultivation and hence it is worshiped. The name Sohrai is derived from a paleolithic age word — soro, meaning to drive with a stick.
On the first day, the cattle are sent to the fields in the morning to graze, while in their absence, the womenfolks of the house decorate the huts by painting them. Meanwhile, food is prepared which would later serve as prasad after the puja. In night, they light earthen lamps (diyas) in the cattle-sheds.
Upon returning, the cattle are warmly welcomed, their horns anointed with oil and vermillion. Garlands made by strewing paddy strands are tied across their foreheads. When the puja gets over, the prasad is distributed among the household members and neighbours. The cattle then rest for the day.
Next day, sohrai people worship their cattle-shed. They bring some paddy strands from their paddy field, which they use in the worship. After worship they tie those plants to animal’s horns. In the afternoon, amid the loud sound of drums, the cattle are taken to an open field where they are let loose for games and recreational purposes.
According to an ancient Santhal mythology, Marang Buru (God of mountain), Jaher ayo (Goddess of forest) and the elder sister of the santhals, would descend on earth from heaven to pay a visit to their brothers and to commemorate this event, the harvest festival is celebrated at this time and women decorate their walls with murals of sohrai arts. These paintings are believed to bring good luck. It’s from here that Sohrai art originated, adding to the culture and traditions of India.
Sohrai art form is ritualistic art done on mud walls to welcome the new harvest and also to celebrate the cattle. This art form is monochromatic as well extremely colourful.
These colourful paintings are done totally by using natural pigments mixed in mud — Kali matti, Charak matti, Dudhi matti, Lal matti (Geru), and Pila matti. Artists use datoon (teeth cleaning twig) or cloth swabs daubed in different earth colours to paint on the walls — bulls, horses with riders, wild animals, trees, lotuses, peacocks, and horned deities. Sohrai paintings are considered to be good luck paintings.
Sohrai art form is said to be following upon the similar patterns and styles once used to create Isko and other rock arts in the region like Satpahar in Hazaribagh district. This art form was prevalent mostly in caves but now has been primarily shifted to houses with mud walls.
Isko cave contains Lower Palaeolithic deposits and deep underground caves inhabited by humans during the ice ages, leaving one of the richest collections of the Middle Palaeolithic stone tool industry in South Asia. The rock art has been dated by leading experts to the meso-chalcolithic period, so it is anywhere between 7000 and 4000 BCE. There is an earlier level of rock art that could be much older. This art form has thus been continuing since ancient times.
It’s good to see that Jharkhand government has taken initiatives and have painted the government boundary walls in the capital city of Ranchi with Sohrai art to give encouragement and publicity to this ancient tribal art form. A tribute to a dying art could not have gotten any better.