Orissa is an enhanced cultural city and is rich in the tribal culture. Off which saura is one of the most popular tribes in the country with some attractive murals and paintings, this art is prominent on the walls of this tribal group. This form of art is frequently found in Raghurajpur Rayagada, Gajapati and Koraput districts of Orissa. A study of their art and painting tradition reveals the rich ancient tribal art idiom, which is still in vogue with popular appeal. The Sauras are particularly famous for rich variety of their paintings based on spiritual and ceremonial themes. Their deity instructions great religious dedication from the tribal people. Sauras establish a very significant and ancient tribe of our country. Each Ideal contains various symbols and signs to convey special meaning for which it is meant. The pictograms are categorized into different sections as per their meaning and purpose. These paintings convey great aesthetic sense even the painting activities are getting commercialized now a days. Specially, the Lanjia Sauras continue the old artistic diction in its original form. Here an attempt has been made to study the various aspects of icons with special reference to its iconology, iconography and painting tradition of the Sauras of Orissa.
The Sauras are prevalent in Orissa and are found in nearly all the districts. However, their main attentiveness, we find in Ganjam, Gajapati and Koraput districts. They are called by various names like Sabara, Saur, Sora and Saura etc. At present they are found in Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. In the North-East States like Assam and Tripura, they have quite sizable population. The term Saura has been derived from two words namely Sagories means the Scythian words for axe and Saba Raye meaning Sanskrit term for carrying a dead body. Their language is an uncultivated one without any standardization. It varies between individual to individual and region to region. In fact it belongs to Austric family of languages to which Mundari is allocated. According to the sources, “Sauras who give the impression of being rather matter of fact and prosaic are surprisingly picturesque and metaphorical in their speech.”
The census reports show that the Saura population is growing rapidly with about 6.26 per cent of the total tribal people of the state and on the basis of their mathematical strength they occupy 3rd position among the 62 tribes. The sex ratio comes to 1030 females per 1000 males. They are academically and socially reversing. From their presence, they resemble the Pre-Dravidian tribes. They have long heads, flat noses with prolonged alae. The brow ridges are prominent and there is unhappiness at the root of the muzzle. Facial prognathous is vivid. Their hair is wavy and curly. Some have plain hair as well. The skin color is brown to dark brown but fare complexioned are also not rare. They are not muscularly built like the Kondhas. The noteworthy feature is that they are very competent in climbing, running and walking on hills. From their appearance they appear PreDravidian. Their dress consists of loin cloth of about 6 feet long and about two inches in breadth. It is plain and at times we find decorated with red tarsals at the border. This is tied around the hip which hangs down into two strips, the one in the rear being longer. Often they wear single necklace of beads. The Saura women put a waist cloth with grey limitations that reaches up the knees. The skirt is usually 3 feet long and about 2 feet broad. In winter season, she covers the upper part with additional piece of cloth. The cloth is knitted by the Dombs. At present mill made and ready-to-wear dresses are being used. The women do not put heavy decoration. A few necklaces of beads, wooden plugs, spiral rings made of brass, bell metal or aluminium in the fingers and toes, little ring in the alee of nose and metal anklets are worn by them. These are generally bought from the local market. The Saura villages are mostly situated in the dense jungle area. Often it is seen hidden in the forest clad hills making it problematic to approach. A zigzag steep hill paths approach the village. In summer, they sleep in the verandah. The houses are built in the slopes or foot hills. They live in small concentration of about 200 households. In case of big village we find a series of hamlets scattered here and there. However, their villages do not conform to any specific type of payment pattern. Houses are built in row leaving a street in between. In many cases the houses are jumbled up and there are thin lanes and small openings to which the door of the houses are fixed. The houses are rectangular in shape and are fairly high. The plinth is very high in proportion to roof. The walls of the houses are made of stone and mud with a high balcony. In some cases houses are built of bamboo and wood plastered with mud. The walls are colored red with red earth. There is an elevated store to keep household items. The open space is used for husking rice. The hearth is found near a wall in one side. The fire goes on burning constantly. Near the kitchen the household utensils are kept. Earth ware vessels are used for cooking and storing. They sleep on mats made of palm leaf. Large number of baskets of various sizes are also found. Well to do men or headmen use cots.
Their economic life rests on shifting cultivation. Hunting and fishery which are some other sources of economy. They are in fact famous for adjoining cultivation. They are also unique due to absence of clan or sub-organization. Their marriage is a simple affair. They cremate their dead and their religion is very enchanting and elaborate. They worship their ancestors for peace, peacefulness and richness. The Sauras are best known for their wall paintings called ‘saura art’. One can find a set of sketches elaborately drawn on their walls. The Sauras do not eat the newly harvested crop of the year without this ceremony. They first offer these to God and their forefathers.
We find graphic account of this tribe for ex; Sauras or Savaras in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The devotion of Savari to Rama in Ramayana is an epic folk lore of India. In the Mahabharata we find reference about Jara Savara who stabbed an arrow to Krisna and destroyed him. His body flowed into Mahodadhi, sea near Puri in the form of a wooden log from which the current Harmony of Jagannath is said to have been built. Prior to that, tradition says that Savara chief Viswavasu was worshipping Nilamadhava Visnu in the unknown blue hill of Orissa, Nilachal. Learnt archery observing the teaching technique of Guru Drona from a distance excelled Pandavas and Kauravas in archery. His devotion to Guru and his disadvantage for his Guru is unmatched in mythology and history. Such is the noble Savara tradition in Mahabharata. In the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela dated to 1st century B.C. Savaras of Orissa were called Vidyadhardhivasas. They constitute an important segment of his turbulent army which victoriously marched over South and North India. Asoka had no control over the Savara territory which was called Atavika Kingdom in the 3rd century B.C. Thus the Savara tribes of Orissa have a hoary glorious past.