The ancient land of Kalinga is home to many tribes of people. One of the tribes living in this state is the Saura tribe, native to the highlands of the Gajapati district, parts of Koraput district and the Gunpur region of the Rayagada district forming a contiguous territory. They have originated and practice a form of pictographic painting we call the Saura style painting.
They are old, and by that we mean really old. You can find mentions of them in the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Savari, the devotee of Lord Rama and Jara, the archer who mortally wounded Lord Krishna are said to be members of this tribe. Eklavya of Mahabharata is also said to belong to this tribe.
The Hathigumpha inscriptions of Khandagiri caves (1st century BC) indicates that Saura of the time were called Vidyadhardhivasas and were an integral part of the army of King Kharavela who marched victorious over both Northern and Southern India. Even Ashoka could not conquer the Sauras when he annexed Kalinga to his empire.
Features of Saura Art
Paintings made by the Saura people are actually part of their religious rituals. The wall paintings themselves are called ekons or ikons and depict deities of the Saura called Idital. The idital are worshipped by the tribal people as representations of benevolent and malevolent deities, who when displeased may visit calamities on the people.
The pictographical style is very similar to Warli paintings of western India but there are stylistic differences. Both styles use geometric frames for their construction but Saura art is painted from the border inwards, unlike Warli art. Stick figures are used in both styles but Warli art uses conjoined triangles for human figures but Saura art does not have such sharp delineations. Saura art also does not differentiate between male and female genders unlike Warli.
Modernization and Popularity
Once upon a time, Saura paintings were made by the priestly class, the Kujangs among the Saura. They were responsible for not only painting the art but also explaining the painting itself. However, with the recent popularity of the art, everyone has begun to make Saura art themselves.
In these days, Saura art has a reputation as the tribal art of Odisha and has widespread appeal. This has meant that Saura art can now be found on all kinds of materials and forms, like t-shirts, greeting cards, stationary etc. The demand for these products has become an avenue for employment among the tribal youth.
In recognition of the importance of this art form and to promote it worldwide, the Government of Odisha has commissioned Saura artists to paint public buildings and are also involved in programmes to train up young artists to modern techniques in partnership of the National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFT).
Today Saura art is no longer in danger of being extinct, due to the effort of the artists and thousands of people who have made it their mission to uplift the Saura tribe to modernity. You can now but Saura art in many forms and in many places, our site included. We are proud to be a part of the movement to revive this ancient art and wish to popularize it to the masses. Come join us and spread the message.