Sohrai: Unique Festival of Jharkhand

Sohrai is a traditional festival celebrated by the tribal communities of Jharkhand, India. It marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the New Year. The festival is celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm, as people thank their cattle for their hard work and pray for their well-being. The festival also showcases the rich and vibrant culture of the tribal people, who decorate their houses and walls with colorful paintings called Sohrai art. These paintings depict various motifs and symbols related to nature, animals, and their beliefs. Sohrai art is a unique form of folk art that reflects the close relationship between the tribal people and their environment. It is a harvest festival that celebrates the bond between humans and animals, especially cattle.

Sohrai is observed in the month of Kartik (October-November) after the paddy crop is harvested, coinciding with Diwali, the festival of lights. The festival is marked by various rituals, cultural performances and artistic expressions. Adivasis pay homage to their gods and their ancestors as a thanksgiving for their crops, their cattle, their ploughs, and everything that has helped them to attain the harvest. 

Sohrai festival is usually celebrated in the month of November, coinciding with Diwali, the festival of lights. The festival lasts for five days, each day having its own significance and rituals. The first day is called Lohra, when people light bonfires and offer prayers to their ancestors. The second day is called Kharna, when people fast during the day invoking blessings from Bongas for individual home and break their fast in the evening with a special dish made of rice and jaggery. The third day is called Sohrai, which is the main day of the festival. On this day, people worship their cattle by washing them, applying vermilion on their horns, and adorning them with flowers and bells. They also perform a dance called Jhumar, in which they imitate the movements of their cattle. The fourth day is called Mandaan, when people visit their relatives and friends and exchange greetings and gifts. The fifth day is called Bhaiya Dooj, when sisters apply vermilion on their brothers’ foreheads and pray for their long life and prosperity.

The five-days of the festival is accompanied by variety of rituals, consumption of handia in copious quantities, dancing, singing and merry making. Different songs are sung for different days.

On the first day, rituals and sacrifice hens are conducted by the village priest (Naike) in an open space as an invocation of their gods (bongas). It is only attended by men of the villages. After a feast of rice boiled with the hen, the village headman (Manjhi) announces start of the festival.

The second day is devoted to invoking blessings from Bongas for individual homes. The cattle are sent to the fields in the morning to graze, while in their absence, the womenfolk 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.

Sohrai cattle2

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.

On the fourth day, the women also join the menfolk and on the final day, the Manjhi brings the festivities to a close.

One of the important aspects of Sohrai is the worship of cattle, which are considered as the source of wealth and fertility. The cattle are bathed, decorated and fed with special food on this occasion. They are also taken out in a procession and made to jump over a bonfire. This ritual is known as agni pariksha or fire test, and it is meant to purify the cattle and ward off evil spirits.


Another distinctive features of Sohrai is the painting of the walls of the houses with natural colors and motifs depicting animals, plants and scenes from daily life. The paintings are done by the women of the household using their fingers, twigs and brushes made from bamboo or grass. The colors are derived from natural sources such as clay, charcoal, rice paste and leaves. The paintings are believed to bring prosperity and protection to the family and the crops.

Sohrai (18)

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.

In preparation of the festival, the women of the community repair their mud walls, floors and decorate the walls with their stunning traditional art. The decoration has to be completed by the eve of the festival. This art form is monochromatic as well extremely colourful.


The distinctive Sohrai art painted on the mud walls is a matriarchal tradition handed down from mother to daughter. 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.

On 13 May 2020, Sohrai received the GI [geographical indication] tag. A GI tag is given to products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities of a reputation that are due to that origin.

The art of Sohrai is one of the oldest forms of wall painting in the world. It dates back to the Paleolithic period, when similar designs were found in caves. The art form has been passed down from generation to generation and has evolved over time. Today, it is recognized as a unique cultural expression of the tribal people of Jharkhand and other states.

Following the discovery of Isko rock arts, a strange resemblance was discovered between the motifs of rock arts and the paintings painted on the walls of local people’s dwellings. The rock arts, according to ASI, date from 7000-4000 BCE and are from the Paleolithic age. A large number of stone tools have been discovered in close proximity to the rock art site.

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.

The 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 the ancient time.

Sohrai is not only a festival of joy and gratitude, but also a way of preserving and promoting a rich artistic tradition that showcases the creativity and skill of the tribal women. 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. 

Sohrai is also a time for social gatherings and cultural activities. The tribal communities perform folk dances and songs to express their gratitude to nature and their ancestors. Some of the popular dances are jhumar, chhau and paika. The festival also showcases the rich and diverse tribal art and craft of Jharkhand, such as dokra metal work, bamboo work, wood carving and pottery.

Sohrai is a festival that celebrates the harmony between humans, animals and nature. It reflects the unique identity and culture of the tribal people of Jharkhand, who have preserved their traditions and customs for generations. It is a festival that showcases their creativity, spirituality and resilience. It is a festival that celebrates the bond between humans and nature. It is a time to express gratitude, joy, and hope for the future. It is also a time to appreciate and preserve the rich cultural heritage of the tribal communities of Jharkhand.

33 thoughts on “Sohrai: Unique Festival of Jharkhand

  1. Pingback: Khovar — an ancient art – Indrosphere

  2. Hi,

    This article is very informative. Great piece of work. My name is Kislay Komal and I have spent 10 years in Jharkhand while doing my schooling from Jamshedpur. Now i am promoting traditional arts and wanted to get connected with the artists of these arts. In case you can help. I put them on global map through my initiative I can be reached on 9880027443.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hanja Baskey

    Thanks sir, for your effort…but I’m completely disagreeing with your research….off course Sohrae is the most significant festival for Santal but… this festival we don’t celebrate during diwali..this we celebrate after harvest.. approximately in the month of January..the date is decided by village people…this festival goes more than five days..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback and I am updating the post.

      Sohrai is a winter harvest festival and one of the most important festivals of santhals. They pay homage to their gods and their ancestors as a thanksgiving for their crops, their cattle, their ploughs, and everything that has helped them to attain the harvest.
      Sohrai is mainly celebrated at the beginning of winter harvest, when the paddy has ripened, on the new moon day (amabasya) of the Bengali month of Kartik, coinciding with Diwali or Kali puja. In some regions, celebrations take place at the end of the winter harvesting mid January (around the end of Bengali month Poush), after they have reaped and threshed their paddy.

      Thank you, Hanja.


  4. Pingback: KHOVAR – Madhvi Arts

  5. Tuhin Hasan

    The Santals are the second-largest ethnic group among the indigenous people living in Bangladesh. They prefer to call themselves “Santal”.

    They call each other “Har.” Har means man. The aborigines are native to Chhota Nagpur in India and the hills and vast areas of Assam. They live in Rajshahi, Natore, Naoga, Chapainawabganj, Bogra, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Pabna, and the other north-western districts.

    for more read

    Liked by 1 person

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