Human have been painting for tens and thousands of years since there were no scripts or languages. The urge to express and communicate with each other made human beings to paint. Like many other places in the world, tribal wall painting is also an age-old tradition in India. Among them, the traditional art forms in Chota Nagpur Plateau are primitive till nowadays and have been fighting hard for its existence. Most of the tribal wall paintings of Chota Nagpur plateau are seen in its higher part, Hazaribagh and in its lower part in the Manbhum area, mostly covering the Purulia district in West Bengal.
Tribal wall paintings are drawn by the ethnic human tribes and have been carried across generations. The forms and types of paintings have been transforming through decades according to the changes in the life style, economic structure and their geographical areas of living. It also differs according to the tribal communities and the occasions during which the painting is done. But the ideas behind this art form are almost same in every region. However, fertility is the core idea running through all these paintings, but the life cycle of birth, marriage, farming, harvest also are the dominating subjects. Wall paintings are usually done during various occasions related to agriculture and marriage. Paintings are generally done to appease the Gods and ancestors. These paintings are noted for their elegance, charm, iconography, aesthetic and ritualistic association. In fact, these are the treasure house of their traditional wisdom, knowledge and folklore. The minute details of the paintings also reflect the day-to-day lives of the tribal society. It is a unique form of expression of life principles with basic themes such as agricultural, hunting and celebration. The distinct characteristic of this art is the use of geometric patterns for symbolizing thoughts, relations and activities with the physical things around human beings.
The wall paintings done during the festival related to agriculture and harvest is known as ‘Sohrai’ painting in Hazaribag, the upper part of Chota Nagpur plateau. But in Purulia, this art form is known as Bandna painting. It is done to celebrate the harvest festival in autumn. Though similar in purpose and celebration time, the art forms and styles are very much differing from each other because of the geographical location and different life styles. Both ‘Bandna’ and ‘Sohrai’ festivals are celebrated to worship the cattle God ‘Pashupati’ to ensure the fertility of farming land and the subsequent harvest. The tribal women decorate their huts by painting them using natural pigments mixed in mud. Artists use cloth swabs or chewed twigs of the local ‘Saal’ forest tree.
‘Khovar’ painting is done during marriage by many tribal communities in Hazaribagh, mostly live-in forested hill villages, found throughout the plateau. The painting is done by the women, considered to be good luck painting in honour of newly married couples. They maintain a vibrant tradition of mural painting practiced as a ritual art form. Walls of the houses, particularly of the bridal chamber are painted. A layer of wet cream coloured earth (Dudhi mitti) is painted over an undercoat of black earth and designs are cut with bits of combs or the fingers exposing black patterns on white. These paintings also have fertility symbols celebrating union and breeding. Though these art forms of Chota Nagpur plateau show enormous skill, conveying intense socio-economic situation, faith and rituals in daily life of tribal communities, nowadays it is struggling to survive. With the increasing effects of urbanization and reluctance nature in the younger generation to retain their traditional culture, there are only a handful of villages left where people still paint their houses.