Rooftop – Where India Inspires Creativity

Learn Indian art online

A Sister To Sohrai Art: Khovar Painting

An Introduction To Khovar Painting

Greetings, art enthusiasts! If you keep yourself updated on the happenings of Indian art, you’d remember the Sohrai-Khovar art form being awarded a G.I. tag. It was a monumental step in the conservation of rural art and history. These art forms, though grouped together, are different in style and execution. Khovar painting is similar to Sohrai but not as well-known. It is, however, an equally significant art form that has its own traditional and cultural history.

Khovar paintings are easily recognisable due to their simple colours, styles, and elements. This spiritual and ritualistic art form is a beautiful example of rural Indian culture and tradition. Let’s explore the meanings, motifs, and methods used in Khovar painting.

Khovar Painting: Etymology And History

Khovar Painting
Khovar painting by Rudhan Devi and her cousin Malo Devi (image source:
Khovar Painting
A traditional Khovar hut (image source:

Khovar is derived from ‘kho’, which means cave, and ‘var’, which means groom. Khovar art is also called ‘comb-cut art’, as combs or scraping tools are used in the painting process. Women painted Khovar art primarily during the marriage season of the community, in the months of January to June. Nowadays, it is drawn alongside Sohrai art or used to decorate walls and handicrafts in an effort to keep the art form alive.

  • Did You Know? The roots of Khovar painting trace back to ISKO rock art created in the period between the Mesolithic and Chalcolithic ages. It contains motifs that were similar to these ancient styles of painting.

The Process Of Creating Khovar Art

Khovar Painting
The interiors of a house decorated with Khovar paintings (image source:
Khovar Painting
Creating Khovar art on paper (image source:

The Oraon, Agaria, Birhor, Kurmi, Prajapati, Munda, Santal, Ghatwal, and Ganju communities practise Khovar art. The designs appear intricate and detailed; however, the motifs that make them up are quite simple. Khovar art is usually black and white in colour. The artist uses black soil that is rich in manganese to paint the base coat.

Over this layer, the women apply a coat of white soil sourced from limestone mines. They use sticks, broken bits of comb, or their fingers to scrape out designs on the wet paint. This process is reminiscent of the Italian Sgraffito technique, in which designs are created by scratching a pattern onto the painted surface to expose the colours of the lower or base layers.

Khovar Painting
Women are able to express their creativity through painted walls
(image source:

It takes 2–3 days to make a traditional Khovar painting, as the wall is first coated with a mixture of clay and cow dung. The same designs can be finished in 5–6 hours on paper due to the smaller size of the canvas. First, the artist mixes manganese black with glue and water to create a paint-like consistency and applies it to the surface of the paper with a rag or brush. Then they use a fine-toothed comb to scrape out the designs.

Also read: Shape Language And Storytelling In Indian Tribal Art

The Motifs And Themes Of Khovar Painting

Khovar Painting
Fish representing the sacred union of marriage (image source:
Khovar Painting
A pregnant peahen is a symbol of fertility (image source:
Khovar Painting
Floral motifs (image source:

The rich flora and fauna of Hazaribagh feature prominently in Khovar paintings. Women draw elephants, birds, lizards, bulls, tigers, and other such animals in these murals. The locals share a close relationship with nature, and artists convey this through their paintings as well. Auspicious and fertility symbols also make up many Khovar painting designs. The motif of a pregnant peacock is highly auspicious and a prominent fertility symbol. Other animal depictions include animals with their young, such as hens with chicks and deer with fawns.

The women draw different animals and natural elements depending on where they live; for example, the Khovar paintings of women living in the plains are different from those of those living in the hills. These paintings feature the local vegetation and animals. Women of the Purninano village only paint geometric motifs on the lower half of the walls and do not include birds or animals in their paintings. Artists use Khovar painting to decorate the inner bedchambers as well as the outer walls of the married couple’s house.

  • Did You Know? The black colour used in Khovar painting represents a woman’s womb and symbolises conception, and the white colour represents sperm and symbolises light and creation.

Similarities Between Khovar And Other Art Forms

Khovar Painting
A photograph of Sohrai art by Justin Imam (image source:

Khovar painting is women-centric and only the women of the village communities practise it. This art form is passed on from mother to daughter. It is similar to Sohrai art as the same communities practise both art forms. However, while women paint Sohrai art to celebrate the harvest, they paint Khovar art as a part of wedding celebrations. They decorate the marriage hut or wedding chambers of a newlywed couple with Khovar murals. Sohrai art is also colourful in comparison to the monochrome Khovar painting.

Khovar artist Sugiya Devi’s paintings on the interior walls of a house (image source:

Khovar art also shares similarities with the Khobar-ghar theme of Madhubani painting. Apart from similar names, some of the motifs used overlap as well. Both Khovar and Khobar-ghar are women-centric art forms, used to decorate the house and bed chambers of a married couple. The similarities end there.

Khobar-ghar is an extremely colourful style of painting that doesn’t use the Sgraffito technique, uses vegetable colours instead of soil, and is more reminiscent of Mithila’s intricate art forms. Khovar painting has an entirely different style and composition. Interestingly, Khovar painting is also called Khobar or Kohbar painting, which may cause further confusion between these similar art forms of Mithila and Jharkhand.

The Conservation Of Sohrai And Khovar Painting

Khovar Painting
Bulu Imam with Khovar artists (image source:
Khovar Painting
Khovar artist Sugiya Devi (image source:

A historian and activist, Bulu Imam was instrumental in Sohrai and Khovar painting gaining international recognition. He also encouraged women artists to paint on cloth and paper, which helped them gain more patrons and sell their paintings more effectively. Imam founded the Tribal Women Artist Cooperative in order to preserve the Sohrai and Khovar painting traditions of Jharkhand. This organisation teaches these art forms to young artists and also works to secure the livelihood of the women painters of Jharkhand.

He has dedicated over 30 years of his life to the preservation of these art forms. Bulu Imam was an important contributor to the discovery of the ancient ISKO rock art sites in Jharkhand, some dating back over 10,000 years. The style of these rock paintings is similar to Sohrai art and Khovar painting. Imam says that this displays how ancient Khovar painting is, which is all the more reason that it should be practised and preserved.

Khovar Painting Today—It’s Not Khovar Yet!

Sohrai and Khovar art decorating the railway stations (image source:
Khovar art on display at Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi (image source:

Khovar art received national recognition and a G.I. (geographic index) tag in 2019. The Government also announced that Sohrai art and Khovar painting would be used to decorate trains and government buildings. As the women have begun painting on cloth and paper, international museums and art galleries are now able to display Khovar painting. The IÉ Space Callot art gallery in Paris displayed photographs of Khovar art taken by German photographer Deidi Von Schaewen.

Khovar Painting
Sohrai-Khovar art on display (image source:

Deidi believes that all tribal art forms across the world share certain similarities due to the interaction between different communities. Tribal and rural art forms are expressions of creativity as well as important documentation of culture and civilization. Preserving traditional, tribal, and folk art forms is essential in the study of all aspects of human life and evolution. Tribal art provides invaluable contributions to the study of anthropology, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and history.

Download the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store to learn more about rare and dying traditional art forms of India.

Discover us on Instagram @rooftop_app for all things on folk and tribal Indian art.

By Melissa D’Mello

Related Posts