The captivating art of the “Saura“, is a tribal art, a folk heritage gifted to us by the Saura tribals or ‘Lanjia Saura’ (also called Sora, Sabara, Saur) of the state of Odisha in India. The paintings are in the form of wall murals which are much similar to Warli paintings from Maharashtra. Saura paintings are also known as ikons (or ekons) or Idital or Edital and have special religious significance for the tribe. Jodisum” and “Jananglasum” are two known Idital styles.


The tribe finds habitat in the southern part of Odisha (Rayagada, Ganjam, Gajapati and Koraput districts). Saura paintings were first studied by the famous anthropologist Verrier Elwin. They are ancient and are mentioned in the epic texts of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Saura tribe holds its customs and rituals through the fine depiction of their religious ceremonies in their intricate paintings. Their art contains symbols and meanings interpreting their history, their philosophy and religious practices.

The Sauras have a strong connection with nature and they believe that the world is inhabited by Gods, spirits of nature and their ancestors. Ritualistic paintings serve as a medium for Sauras to get connected with them. Even today the remote tribe lives in a terrain that is hilly and has dense forests.

Their huts are very basic in design made out of bamboo and mud on a raised platform. The tribe is known for contoured farming and their livelihood depends on shifting agriculture, hunting and fishing.


The Saura wall paintings are called Italons or Ikons (or Ekons) because they are dedicated to Idital (also Edital) the main deity of the Sauras. Paintings include human figures, horses, elephants, the sun and the moon and the tree of life in recurring patterns in these ikons. Saura paintings are ritualistic pictographs that are usually painted on the inner walls of their mud houses called italons

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Traditional Saura paintings were believed to be created by Kudangs, the priestly class or by the village shaman who is possessed by spirits and paints under the command of the spirits. They would also explain their meanings to the locals, passing on their tribal customs and culture in a unique oral tradition. It is compulsory in newly made mud houses to project an ekon, which is painted in a dark corner inside the home where its creation is accompanied by the recital of a specific set of prayers.


Saura paintings or Ekons use natural dyes or pigments and chromes derived from ground white stone, hued earth, and vermilion and mixtures of tamarind seed, flower and leaf extracts. For clear background they use, geru (from red earth) or yellow ochre and white (from rice paste)

Local material like twig or tender bamboo shoots is used as a brush and pigments made from rice, ash, chalk or lime. The motifs include human and animal figures, marriage occassion, a good harvest, childbirth, tribal objects etc which are nowadays losing significance with growing urbanization and interaction of tribals with other communities.

The isolated village of the langia, however, is still unadulterated and there one can find the Ittalams (paintings) in their true sacred and spiritual context. 


Saura painting video by Swarajya


At a glance, Saura and warli seem to be indistinguishbale, like twins. Both the art forms include similar geometrical shapes and similar shades of earthen colours. But there are subtle differences between the two. Here are few difference which makes them distinctive from one another :

  • PIGMENTS: Traditional warli painting uses a base of ground rice in its white paint, while traditional Saura paintings uses a base of ground seashells for its paint.
  • GEOMETRIC SHAPES: The Saura figures are less angular than the Warli ones. The Saura forms are also larger and more elongated than the ones seen in Warli art.
  • TECHNIQUE: Saura paintings use the fish-net approach of painting. In this, the border of the painting is drawn first and then the painting is made in an inwards direction. This approach does not occur in Warli paintings.
  • HUMAN FIGURES: In a Warli the torso of men/women is constantly represented by two equilateral triangles placed conversely. This rule is not as strictly followed in Saura paintings, where the figures are more flexible.


Like many other traditional paintings, this art too has travelled from mud walls to the premium quality fabric or appreals of the modern era. Mostly it is seen in black background with white paint or on white background with black ink.

The motifs have changed from being solely religious to those showcasing modern motifs and social acts. Traditional motifs have been replaced with modern icons like buses, cars, television. The essence of original Saura paintings being treasures of folklore and an epic pictorial tradition is now fading away.

The murals on mud walls, are now seen on sarees to notebook covers, T-shirts, decoratives, stationery. Such transformation actually helped the art in making its wide presence in the local and international market. This gave a broader market for a Saura artist to earn from his art. Saura artists have started experimenting with newer mediums too, like acrylics and pen and ink, on more mobile materials like canvas and paper.

Saura painting of Odisha

It is actually interesting to look at such an ancient artform that remained unchanged for ages, but now when engrossed in modernity, too carry forward its presence with the same grace as before.

Saura art is not just ancient and beautiful to look at, it is also a way of expressing the tribe’s own legacy in a unique way. One of India’s most intriguing tribal artforms, Saura is a treasure that adds so much richness to the cultural identity of India. It must be preserved and taken care of.




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