Saura, Sabara, Sahar, Saur or Sora is the name of the greatest Indian tribal community that is widely spread across Central Indian states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. This celebrated community is mentioned in the Indian epic tales like Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Puranas. The Lord Jagannath is believed to have been the deity of this very community that acknowledged him as a supreme power and welcomed the lord into the lap of Puri.
The word Saura has two distinct definitions. One from the Scythian word ‘axe’ and the other is from the Sanskrit word ‘saba roye’ that is roughly translated to ‘someone who carries the dead body’. Both these words play a very significant role in identifying the tribe. They are always known to carry an axe with them and their occupation is hunting and sourcing food. So the word describes the tribe perfectly.
The tribe talks an ancient ‘Mundari’ dialect that is poetic in nature. One can understand that their usage of words is distinctly ‘descriptive’. This allows the tribe to flourish in other forms of expression too. Although the language has no concrete script patterns, they have now developed a basic structure in writing.
Like any tribal art in India, we need to understand the religious significance of this tribe. Here, the paintings are mere reflections of the community’s collective idea. It remains as an age-old reminder of their belief system and practices.
The Saura tribe’s murals are known an Iditals, which is the representation of the tribe’s deities. The one who paints the art pieces is called as iditalmars. The artist follows a stringent lifestyle that is an ode to the journey. The tribal art is the culmination of the shaman sessions conducted in the tribal circle, where each piece depicts the readings of that particular shaman. Saura paintings are world renowned for its simplistic patterns. Each painting is done on a clean mud wall. The artists use simple rice paste to make the patterns. One can find the patterns of deities, humans and the nature at large. There is said to be nearly 64 famous patterns used by a Saura artist. The most common motifs/patterns are Labasum (the earth god), Jodisum (the village deity), Manduasum (the sun god) and Jananglosum (the wind deity).
Future of Saura Paintings
The government of Odisha has started to invest in the training of the younger generation and art enthusiasts to learn the Suara tribal art because there have been many endeavors with foreign brands to collaborate. The NIFT and many other governments aided institutes have begun to train the tribal artists in more productive ways.
The heart of the craft is the same, but there have been minor changes in the medium to increase both longevity of the artwork and also the time frame in the completion of the same.