Balu Imam and family bring ancient murals of Hazaribagh tribeswomen to the bigger world

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa • 1 Months ago
Alka and Justin Imam at their center
Alka and Justin Imam at their center


Ghaus Siwani/New Delhi

Sohrai and Khovar painting, a mural traditional art practiced by women in the Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand State would have remained a tradition of wall decoration in houses but for the efforts of Imam Balu, who encouraged women to use it on paper and cloth.

Balu Imam was the first to establish the Sanskrit Museum and Art Gallery in 2018 for the promotion of this ancient art. It is due to his efforts the art got wider recognition and the Jharkhand government announced plans to adorn trains and government housing with Sohrai paintings

The Sohrai painting received the geographical Indication Tag in 2020.

Murals on walls of houses in a village in Hazarinagh, Jharkhand

Balu has been honoured with Padam Shri for his efforts to revive this nearly 10,000-year-old folk art and bringing the natural art of tribes women to the larger world.

Sohrai art is done at Sohrai or the harvest festivals and is therefore in colours while Khovar paintings are done at weddings and it’s strictly in black and white.

Initially, Sohrai art was confined to some tribes of Jharkhand. Women derived natural colours from local vegetation and used these to create murals to decorate their houses. With Imam’s efforts these traditional designs are now being made on bags, t-shirts, bed sheets, curtains, etc.

This Imam Balu has played an important role in bringing this treasure of an ancient art form before the world and getting women painters recognition at the national and international levels.


A Tribal woman painting the wall of her house in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

Besides Balu, his son Justin Imam and daughter-in-law Alka Imam have given impetus to the art by establishing a center to promote this folk art. At the center in Hazari Bagh, many women and girls are introduced to the nuances of Sohrai art.

Alka Imam is in charge of training the young generation at the Sahrai Kala Center. She says that the rural women living in the area around Hazaribagh have been making Sohrais and other paintings on the walls of their houses for centuries.

The formal training of women has turned this centuries-old tradition into a source of income exclusively for women. Women have now started using attractive art on walls as well as many things.

The made by local women pieces like T-shirts, bags, toys, etc. are attracting tourists to the area for admiring and also buying their handicraft products.

Ancient specimens of this art were found in 1991 in a forest cave near Barkagaon. Studying rock paintings shows that this art is about 10,000 years old. Rock paintings are also a type of Sohrai art.


A government builkding decorated with murals of Sohrai art in Jharkhand

Looking at the rock art suggests that the Sohrai art in the area must have been thousands of years old.

Studies are still going on to find out about its antiquity and other facts.

Alka Imam says that Sohrai art is mainly made by mixing red, black, yellow, and milky clay, which is a natural color. This soil is easily found in different regions of Jharkhand.

Alka Imam explains that Sohrai art is an ancient art form. Its indigenous and most of the designs in use are driven from traditional artifacts.

People of 13 tribal communities in and around Hazaribagh have their distinct styles of painting.

Even today, the women of the house in this area make paintings in their houses on the occasion of festivals and weddings. Balu Imam, who has recognized Sahrai art in the country and abroad, says that the Sahrai festival establishes a deep love between pets and humans. This art has been used in one's house to raise children after marriage and to grow crops after Diwali.

It is believed that a house with a painting of Kohbar and Sohrai on the wall will increase the family and crops in their house. People draw pictures of natural objects for crop growth. The designs of hearts, kings, and queens are created for the family’s fortunes and growth.

ALSO READKerala MLA Najeeb Kanthapuram is giving wings to dreams of the poor through education

Imams say the local youth are getting more interested in this art and it’s making the women financially independent. Their artworks are much in demand within the country and across the world.