Saura Art – The Story of an Ancient Indian Tribe Through Their Captivating Art

Art Wise

With simple forms and figures that come together to compose intricate narratives in very few colours, the captivating art of the Sauras, has told the story of the tribe for hundreds of years. A tribal artform from eastern India, Saura art started out with its ritualistic beginnings on the walls of village homes, to become one of the most beautiful artforms that India is proud of.

Language of an Ancient Tribe

The Sauras are one of India’s oldest tribes, inhabiting the southern part of Odisha. With a history that has been mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Sauras are known for their distinct tribal culture and their art. A tribe that is deeply connected to nature, their art on the surface seems to be a simplistic depiction of everyday village life. But the art of the Sauras is rich with symbolism and meaning, and it is through these images and their interpretation that the Saura people hold on to their customs and culture. For the Sauras, whose language does not have a script, their art is a record of their history, their philosophy and religious practices.

Saura Art on the Mud Walls of a Village Home, Image Source: 

Methods and Symbolism

Saura art is traditionally made on the red or brown clay walls of the homes of the villagers, with natural dyes made from rice, white stone, and flower and leaf extracts, using a brush that is made from tender bamboo. The paintings are usually dedicated to the deity of the Sauras, known as Idital and are made during special occasions like harvest, child-birth, marriage etc, during which they are also worshipped.

Saura Art by Manas Das

The figures in Saura artworks are called icons or ikons and many of them are recurring motifs and symbols, such as people, the tree of life, the sun and moon, horses, and elephants, which all hold their own symbolism. Traditionally, it was only priests who could make these wall-paintings. They would also explain their meanings to the village-folk, passing on their tribal customs and culture in a unique oral tradition.

Saura Art by Manas Das

How Saura is Different from Warli

At a glance, Saura seems to be the identical twin of another, perhaps better known tribal artform from India – Warli. Made of similar geometrical shapes, and in similar shades of earthen colours, the two artforms are often indistinguishable. There are subtle differences between the two however, from the composition of the forms to the pattern in which they are placed, which make each artform distinct!

Saura Art by Manas Das

The Saura figures are less angular than the Warli ones, where the human body is depicted by two sharp triangles conjoined at the apex. The Saura forms are also larger and more elongated than the ones seen in Warli art, with no physical differentiations between male and female shapes. Another distinct characteristic of Saura art is the ‘fishnet’ approach with which all the artworks are made. Every Saura artwork begins with a carefully drawn border and then the patterns close in on the centre to form the intricate compositions.

Left: Saura Art, Right: Warli Art  

A Traditional Art in the Modern World

Saura art has undergone many transformations in the 21st century. An art that began as murals on mud walls, it is now everywhere, from sarees to notebook covers. It has also acquired a decorative value in recent times, with many people buying Saura art for their homes.

Saura Motifs on a Tussar Silk Saree, Image Source

Saura artists have started experimenting with newer mediums too, like acrylics and pen and ink, on more mobile materials like canvas and paper. Another interesting development in Saura art, and this is a trend seen in other Indian tribal artforms too, is the subtle entry of modern elements in the imagery and subjects depicted. It is indeed a wonderful thing to look at a primitive artform that remained unchanged for ages, and then notice a bus in the painting, drawn in the style of the art, looking perfectly in place.

Saura Painting on Silk Depicting Buses 

With its eye-catching imagery and cultural significance, Saura art is not just beautiful to look at, it is also fascinating, as the voice of a tribe that’s telling its own story in a way that is honest and unique. One of India’s most intriguing tribal artforms, Saura is a treasure that adds so much richness to the tapestry of India’s cultural diversity.

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