Berhampur: With modern lifestyle penetrating remote corners of Odisha, the traditional Idital paintings that adorned houses of the Saora tribals are now seen on the walls of star hotels.
According to researchers, due to their belief that human spirit some times likes to remain in the living world, the Saora tribals, mostly in Ganjam and Gajapati districts, used to keep a separate seat for the spirit called Idital and decorate it with traditional paintings. Thus the paintings came to be known as Idital painting.
In his book ‘Religion of an Indian Tribe’, Verrier Elwin notes there is a close interaction between the living Saoras and the dead ancestors or the supernatural entities. They consider the ‘Idital’ as the deities’ house that is responsible for the well-being of their families; it is placed mostly in the dark corner of the house and also demands animal sacrifice.
The Idital paintings depict the sun, moon, axe, bow and arrow, porcupine, elephant, horse, monkey, peacock, snake, pigeon, among other things.
“The Saoras also paint on special occasions such as the naming of a newborn, in honour of the dead, for the welfare of the persons living away from the village, preserving the fertility of the land and keeping away diseases,” said Bhal Chandra Sarangi, a social activist who works in the remote areas of Ganjam and Gajapati districts.
Going by the Idital practice of the tribals, when a person falls sick for a long time, a ‘Shaman’ (a tribal exorcist) is invited to detect the spirit. When the spirit demands an abode inside the house in the form of ‘Idital’, the family calls ‘Idimar’, who specialises in this traditional art.
The female members of the house ready the wall for the drawing and prepare the paste from rice for painting. Idimar makes a brush from the twig of a tree and starts painting. First he draws the outline and then pictures of the deities.
It takes maximum 3 days to draw the ‘Idital’ and when the ‘Idimar’ hesitates to draw further paintings, a hen is sacrificed to appease the spirit. Mohua liquor, rice, paddy, new clothes and others are offered to the ‘Idital’ and umbrellas, rice pots and ‘biddi’ are hung from the roof. All these days, ‘Idimar’ takes food only after sunset.
But the practice has almost become extinct. The invasion of modern culture and opposition to animal sacrifice by reform groups have forced many Saoras to quit painting of Idital. With changing times, pictures of aeroplane, radio and vehicles have penetrated into the tribal houses, Sarangi said.
Now, high-end hotels and government buildings have Idital paintings as decorative pieces on their walls, he added.
With the passage of time, five of 14 sub-groups of the Saoras, including Lanjia, Jara, Arsi, Bhima and Sudha found in Gajapati district, continue to follow their cultural identities and Idital.
Some Saora sub-groups have migrated to Ganjam and have settled in Sorada, Seragada, Sanakhemundi and Digapahandi blocks. They have also migrated to Saba and Balarampur panchayats in Dharakote block and Gochabadi and Pandiripada panchayats in Polsara block of Ganjam. Some Saoras reside in two villages under Daringibadi block in Kandhamal district.