19th Dec 2011 - 23rd Dec 2011

Tribal Art From Jharkhand

Tribal Art of Hazaribagh




In 1991 the existence of the first painted shelters of Hazaribagh in Jharkhand State in eastern India were brought to light by our team, of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) of which Mr. Bulu Imam is the Convenor in our Hazaribagh Chapter since 1987. During the next few years over one dozen major Mesolithic rockart sites were brought to light. In the vicinity of these shelters palaeolithic stone tools, microliths, Neolithic stone tools, and pottery shards were found. In due course the continuance of the rockart painting tradition was traced in the neighbouring village houses. A distinct connection between the rockart, village mural tradition, and the painted pottery of Central India, Indus valley, and Iran was also noted. By 1993 we had brought the village art to paper. It had been possible to make a special project of the painting of the traditional art on paper when two small grants were given to INTACH by the Australian High Commission in New Delhi (1993-95). This developed the existence of the Hazaribagh Khovar and Sohrai art on paper by tribal women artists.



The village paintings are considered auspicious symbols related to fertility and fecundity being painted on the walls. There are two major stylistic divisions based on the harvest and marriage seasons, and three major techniques painted; comb-cut; finger-cutting or painted. The two basic forms of art in Northern Jharkhand are the Khovar comb or finger painting and the Sohrai painted art.

Khovar is the marriage art of the tribals and semi-hinduized tribes of Hazaribagh (Jharkhand) living in hill villages, found throughout the plateau, the forested hill villages, and the agricultural valleys. Khovar or the Comb-Cut art done during the marriage season, a type of sagraffito art using Reversed Slip pottery technique. This technique consists of applying a ground coat and letting it dry, after which a wet slip is applied and cut or scraped off in various designs or motifs with a plastic or bamboo comb, or with the four fingers of the hand. The under layer is of a stark contrast with the upper layer, usually black and white.

Sohrai is the winter harvest art, and is the sister festival in the great seasonal calendar. The great Sohrai tradition of painting is painted using cloth swabs or chewed twigs of the local Saal forest tree used for brushing their teeth (called datwan)  by the villagers. Many of the designs may be compared with prehistoric rock art and  pottery markings and prehistoric seal motifs from Harappa.



Both Khovar and Sohrai is intrinsically similar to great wall painting traditions and trace itself to the prehistoric rockart of Hazaribagh. The upper valley of the river Damodar in Jharkhand is almost exclusively the last remaining stronghold of Khovr & Sohrai art in the eastern India


Today both Sohrai and Khovar traditions have been made available through the exclusive Tribal Women’s Artists Cooperative (TWAC) which founded in 1995, and which markets these works of art through exhibitions in select galleries and venues around the world. A portion of the proceeds returns directly to each of the over seventy tribal women in the Cooperation, and a welfare fund helps the community.


In view of extensive opencast coal mining threatening some two hundred  Khovar and Sohrai villages stand to be destroyed in the upper Damodar valley in North Karanpura along with the agricultural and environmental niche in which this unique art is fostered.



Sanskriti Centre and VIRASAT (Registered Trust)

The Sanskriti Centre functions to protect the art and culture of the region and has an office of the Hazaribagh Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), of which the Regional Convener is Bulu Imam, who is also the Director of the Sanskriti Centre, and VIRASAT Trust, of which the Secretary is Mr.Justin Imam (founded in 2008). Outreach initiatives have been facilitated by the Tribal Women Artists Cooperative (TWAC) and tribal arts project, and have been made possible through a sharing of all the earnings of the Centre with the villagers who enabled these earnings in no matter how tiny a way. This self funding concept in Sanskriti Centre and Virasat, makes salaries redundant and a spirit of common sacrifice acceptable in the larger goals of the Centre's work. Perhaps this creates the Centre's unique ambience and atmosphere with its pompous celebration of the little things of tribal life, its attitudes and gifts.



Activity of Tribal Women Artist’s Cooperative, Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, India


The Tribal Women Artists’ Cooperative was founded in 1995 by Bulu Imam at his Sanskriti Centre in Hazaribagh to promote the regional village artforms of Khovar and Sohrai which is a continuing tradition from the region’s rockart. TWAC endeavors to draw attention to the rich cultural heritage of the region and the threat to it by unsustainable development including large coal mining which is destroying the villages in which the artforms are practiced and the unique forest environment in which the prehistoric rockart sites are located. These regions still contain wild tigers and elephants which are depicted in the paintings. Thus the project is one of both advocacy and activism as well as nurturing threatened art of a very rare type.


The Cooperative promotes this work by exhibitions and sales of artworks whose proceeds are equally divided among the artists, welfare fund, and maintenance of Sanskriti Centre. This project currently having over sixty working artists in six villages has been nurtured since 1993 under the aegis of the Hazaribagh Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).


Since its inception TWAC has held several international exhibitions of artworks painted on high quality handmade art paper by the Adivasi women of Hazaribagh’s jungle villages. In 1997 the project created the Bihar Tableau for the National Republic Day Parade in New Delhi.  In 1999 Films Division (Govt. of India) made a 35mm Colour documentary on the project titled Tribal Women Artists, now being shown in Jharkhand.


In March 2000 four Adivasi women from Hazaribagh spent a month in Sydney painting fourteen massive murals (6’x12’ feet) on specially prepared boards, sponsored by the Australian Museum’s Djamu Gallery. These were placed in the nation’s top museums (Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, The Australian Museum, Powerhouse Gallery, Casula Arts Centre, etc.


The sale of artworks returns one-third of profits to women artists and one-third to the welfare fund for tribal women of the area, including the artists. The rest of the proceeds go into running the project. List of Exhibitions is attached. Tribal women artists from TWAC presented the campaign in interventions at the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva in July 2001& 2002, and again in 2004. In 2003 Women Artists from TWAC attended the Asia Pacific Weeks through exhibitions and a seminar organized in Berlin by the Heinrich Boll Foundation. In 2005 TWAC made a film One Eared Elephant from Hazaribagh which was premiered at the Indian Embassy Berlin, in January, 2006. Several exhibitions have been held in India and abroad. The next exhibition is in Milan from 5-11 June, 2006. Thereafter in Turin, and other towns in Italy. TWAC artist Putli Ganju has received the State Artist Award, Jharkhand, 2006.