THE PAINTING THAT HEALS
If you feel feverish or inflammation of the stomach you may consult a village doctor. He identifies the evil responsible for the disease. He prescribes a particular iconic painting analysing the disease.
Doctor appoints the iconic painter The painter visits the patient’s house and settle upon a suitable wall, usually inside wall of a room where all the harvested crops are stored in the baskets that are piled up on the floor. The background wall is prepared at first using the red earth.
He first draws the rectangular outline with mashed bamboo brush using white colour rice flour as a pigment in a trance-like condition. A man blessed by” Jananglasum”, a lady priest with a garland, the guards with poles, pig, and goat step out of the wall. Numerous details of these timeless images emerge from the world..he casts his charm on the mud wall.
He incorporates the use of geometry using triangles and there blooms a parallel world on the wall. We may feel that he is the right artist conjuring the pulsating life of the Saura on the wall that heals the patient. The painting presents both precision and artistic sense of the highest surpassing all the murals of tribals in the world ..
You may sound it as just plain unbelievable, but it is a truth, at least in twenty-three Lanjia Saora villages around Pattasingi, Serago in Koraput and Chandragiri hill areas of Ganjam in Odisha. These magnificent icons are prepared for curing the diseases and for facilitating safe childbirth. It is an essential item in ”Calling name ” ceremony.
The iconic painting turns to be an inevitable item when the occasion is an invitation rite related to training in ”Shamanism”.Shaman or Kudan is the medicine man as well as diviner with just below the rank of the chief priest of the village. Lanjia Saoras call the male Shaman” Kudamaran ” and female diviner ”Kudanboi ”respectively. ”Ittalmaran” or an iconic painter plays a vital role in the funeral ceremony, in ”Gaur” ritual and feasts performed in the village. Finally, Lanjia Saoras decorate their walls with iconic paintings as a prayer to improve the fertility of the earth ensuring better harvest. The traditional icon or wall paintings ”Cidital ”or” Anital’ is the Saora term for the icon are relatively more common in Puttaslngi area of Gunupur.
When the artist has finished the preliminary draft of the picture, he sends for a Shaman who at once proceeds to complete the course of true art with religious inspirations. He offers rice and wine before the icon and calls on the spirit for whom it has been made to come and inspect it.
He falls into trance, takes his sacred lamp in his hand and inspects the drawing by its light; he criticizes it and suggests its improvements. Once it has been accepted and dedicated, after the sacrifice is offered, a pot or gourd is hung up above it, the icon is regarded as a little temple within the house. The icons are always drawn in the morning. Different varieties of icons are drawn to suit the occasion.
Lanjia Saoras successors of Great Ekalavya
Ekalavya learnt archery Lanjiya Saoras the successors of Ekalavya who was rejected by Dronacharya who adhered to the principle of teaching Kshatriyas and Brahmins alone. Ekalavya collected the mud on which Drona walked and created a mud statue of Drona under a big old well -grown peepal tree. He meditated Drona in his mind and set in practising archery with resolute will without missing a minute. The steadfast Ekalavya who cut off his thump and presented before Dronacharya who had Hasthinapuri leanings. His devotion to Guru and his sacrifice for satisfaction of his Guru is unparalleled in mythology and history.
Sauras constitute a very important and ancient tribe of Odisha. ”Sauras” or” Savaras ” are mentioned conspicuously in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The devotion of ”Savari ”to Rama in Ramayana is alluring epic folklore. Tradition says that Savara chief Viswavasu was worshipping Nilamadhava Visnu in the unknown blue hill of Orissa or Nilachal in Odiya
In Mahabharata, we find a mention about Jara Savara who pierced an arrow to Krisna and killed him. His body flowed into Mahodadhi i.e. sea near Puri in the form of a wooden log from which the present Triad of Jagannath is said to have been built. We feel it excited when we go through the noble and glorious Savara tradition in Mahabharata.
Historical relevance of Lanjia Saoras
Ptolemy in first century A.D. describes them as” Sabarais” and Pliny in second century A.D. mentions as” Shauris”.In the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela dated to 1st century B.C. Savaras of Orissa were called Vidyadhardhivasas. They constitute an important segment of his turbulent army which victoriously marched over South and North India. Asoka had no control over the Savara territory which was called” Atavika Kingdom.
The Saoras or Savaras
The Saoras or Savaras are one of the most ancient autochthonous tribal group of India. This unique tribal group inhabits the forest-clad mountainous region of Eastern Ghat, particularly in Koraput and Ganjam districts in southern Orissa.
Saoras are considered as a scheduled tribe with various names such as Savar, Saar a, Sahara and Sacra etc. According to the 1981 census, the total Saora population in Orissa was 3,70,060 with their concentration in the districts of Ganjam (69,201), Koraput (45,940) in the south and Sambalpur district (1,07,697) in north Odisha.Saora dialect, classified under the Austro-Asiatic linguistic group and within southern Mundari family of languages. The Saoras do not have any traditional script of their own and they communicate their ideas through oral tradition.
The Saoras -Sub tribes
The Saoras do not belong to a homogenous tribal community and it consists of several ethnic divisions, based on occupational specialization and traditional form of dress and cultural specia- lization. The principal sub-tribes are – Jati Savar a, Arsi Savar a, Kindal (or basket maker) Saora, Laura (or blacksmith) Saora, Kumbi (or potter) Saora, Suddha Saora, Jara Savara, Gontra (or bell- m^jtal worker) Saora and Lanjia Saoras.
The latter one is the most primitive among all of the above- mentioned sub-tribes (Behura 1984). Each of the sub-tribes has independent custom.
Each of the sub-tribes has independent custom. The houses are arranged linearly on both sides of the village alleys. Each village has several small hamlets mostly inhabited by the families from the same lineage. An average number of about two hundred families live in a village.
In every Saora village, on the way towards entrance an earthen platform and a wooden pole erected on it. It contains a thatched shed represent ‘Bato-devata1, ”jodi Sum” and other deities.”Manduasum”the god of the dead is installed outside the village,for protecting and safeguarding the villagers from all evils.
The Saorian houses are rectangular shaped with considerable height. These houses are mostly single-roomed but more or less spacious. The houses are built on a raised mud-built platform and the walls of the house are made of stone pieces and plastered by red coloured mud. The roof is thatched by straw or grass.
Inside the room, a wooden platform (3 m. height) is made in the middle on which the agricultural implements and other household pieces of equipment are stored. The room is used for sleeping, cooking as well as storing of grains, seed and other agricultural products. The hearth is placed in one corner beside the wall. On the other end, drinking water is stored in earthen pots and kept on a mud-built platform.
The wall near to the mud-built platform is used for storing grains. The hangers, the hanging pots of storage, and the pumpkin creepers with ripe pumpkins on the thatched roof create the harmony of a sublime organic installation.
”Sonnum ”or ”Sunnam ” is the common name assigned for the Saora deities and spirits. They lack the concept of a supreme deity. The varied aspects of the environment component are reflected in the formation of local gods.
The Gods differ from one another in composition, function, character, and nature. It is believed that some of them are evil some, some remain neutral and others the helpful Gods. Those who die in the house appear in dreams and ask for certain offering. Malevolent spirits are more cared for than the useful ones.
In every village,the people are under the influence of two elders,”Gomang”,the secular head man and” Bhuyya” the religious head man.
The Shamans establish the link between man and the mystic domain of nature, God, spirit complex. The male Shaman is called Kudan and female Shaman is called Kudan bai respectively. They acts as diviner cum medics. They establish direct communication which is oracular in origin when he is elevated to a trance-like situation. It is believed that the Shamans can cure illness and ward off mishaps and misfortunes caused by the wrath of evil spirits. It may sound strange when you hear that every( male )Shaman has a female tutelary goddess and every Shamanin has a male tutelary. The relationship between them and their respective tutelary is the same as that between husband and wife.
There are two distinct stages in this mural art. In the first stage the ritual divination of the priest leads to the identification of the “spirit” or “power” that had caused a disease or death and that needs to be propitiated. It is at this stage that the words of the spell are used. Secondly, instead of an attempt to ward off the evil or malevolent spirit here, the malevolent spirit is brought in or rather pulled or dragged in and installed or imprisoned in a ritualistic one-dimensional temple in the icons or painting. The Saora icon is the drawing on the walls and therefore it is called ITTALAN (ID = to write, KITALAN = a wall).
Most of the Saura icons are built up round the ideas of a “house” – a square, circle or rectangle, which is filled in and surrounded with the figures of men and animals. The artist makes the outline of the house first, for this determines the approximate size of the picture and then proceeds to decorate and fill it in. In drawing a human figure for example, he first makes an outline of the whole body with two opposed isosceles triangles which meet at the tips. He adds the arms, then the legs then, the head and finally fills in the two triangles
Figures representing animals include bee (with beehive), lizard, snake in pairs, peacock, duck, other birds, tiger, hare and a group of monkeys. These types are numerically dominant within a range of variation between 21 and 52. In the same category, other unidentified animals may be included. The second group constitutes scorpion, pair of bullocks, bison, deer, dog and bear, the number varies between 11 and 18. In the third category, the number decreases further. These are tortoise, fish and crocodile, the number varies between 3 and 6. There are other animal species which are closely.
The inclusion of so many animals, both wild and domesticated points to the fact that the Saoras were exposed to a variety of animal species, both malevolent and benevolent, selection of the samples may be explained as their usual hunts and food Items and so also several other useful species. Some other elements may be viewed to indicate fear complex. It is not unlikely that within so many animals, some of them are connected with religion and even supernatural’ belief.
Appropriate example in this regard may be illustrated from lizard which is viewed as the favourite seat of ”Eldasum”- the benevolent deity. Another indication is of snakes in pair, showing copulating scene. This is considered for fertility and as good omen. Some animal figures might have a possible connection with clan. Unlike animals, identification of plants is not only extremely difficult but practically impossible. Under such circumstance, all the plants have been lumped together. The only exception is of Shalpa tree or Sago-palm (Carvota circus). This tree has an important position.
The sap of this tree is collected for preparing liquor which is offered to the deity and consumed by villagers during festivities.it has been, observed that the artist always perform the artwork only after drinking the same liquor. In other words, this tree (shalpa) is closely associated with their culture, especially in the vista of artwork.
It seems curious that there is hardly any sex differentiation visible throughout the icons. A woman may be recognised by a pot on her head or bulge at the side if she is pregnant, otherwise the only way to distinguish male and female figures is by their occupation. It might be argued that the icons belong to literature rather than to art. In one sense they are the graphic message to the spirits. The Sauras have no art that is not inspired and directed by religion.
Nowadays the Lanjia Saora is passing through a phase of transition. They are being shifted to the primitive and pre-agricultural stage of shifting cultivation to modern agriculture and the culture of other beliefs and practices. With the passage of time and commercialisation, the medium of Saora paintings has been shifted from mud wall to cotton sarees, silks and on other attires and all other household products like cutlery, vessels and ceramic wares. Whatever be the medium, As Keats said ” A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness;”
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