Mar 9th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles

Hazaribagh in the Indian state of Jhharkhand was one of the hill stations favoured by the British at the time of the Indian Raj. At the time it was considered the most beautiful hill station and the British Indian government were seriously considering adopting it as their summer capital, when the temperatures in Delhi became unbearable. In the end they opted for Simla, which at two thousand two hundred metres altitude, was higher, and therefore cooler, than Hazaribagh, at a mere one thousand six hundred metres. But to get to Simla they had to build a railway, a major feat of engineering, at enormous cost. Hazaribagh is on a high plateau, once surrounded by beautiful Sal forests, but now spreading in an ugly sprawl, made even uglier by a government road widening scheme slashing through the forests, destroying millions of trees and stirring up tons of dust.

However, close to Hazaribagh Bulu Imam and his family run Sanscriti,   https://buluimam.wixsite.com/sanskritimuseum  a project designed to help the tribal villagers in the area around Hazaribagh preserve their traditional painted mud houses.

Bulu’s son Gustav came to meet me at Koderma train station in a jeep with a driver at eight o’clock in the evening. My train was nine hours late, so I arrived after dark and was very grateful for the lift back to Sanskriti, where I found that the family had waited to have supper with me. We ate at ten pm surrounded by tall metal filing cabinets containing Bulu’s life work, much of it published in reputable journals and almost all of it typed, the walls covered in pictures painted in an enormous variety styles. Bulu and his family host people all the time, surrounding them with affection and attention and taking them to see the tribal villages.


Next day Gustav showed me round the museum, a mud walled house decorated in various styles, which Bulu’s family created near their home, to show people who have no time to visit the villages. Each year, after the monsoon has damaged the walls, different artists paint on the newly repaired mud walls of the museum. He told me about a tribal women’s art cooperative and showed me paintings by unschooled tribal women whose art has now become famous and taken them round the world to exhibit their work. Sanscriti has done much to highlight tribal art, now recognised by the government, which pays tribal artists to paint government buildings.

Traditionally they grind Haematite for the red paint, yellow ochre for the yellow, black mud from the ground and white from the coal mines.

The British took tribal lands from the Santal tribes and gave it to landlords from North India, who forced the Santals to work for them and paid taxes to the British. The Santal tribes rebelled several times, leading up to the 1858 Kol rebellion, so called by the British, who used this non-specific term ‘Kol’ to describe all the different tribes. After this the British began to remove the Santals, taking them to Assam as bonded labour to work in the tea gardens. Gustav showed me a plaque with the words “Tea District Labour Supply Association 1919” carved on it. Those bonded labourers have never returned to Jhharkhand.

However some of the tribes in the area still have some land and Gustav took me to visit a village where the villagers are growing vegetables and living in nice big mud houses with plenty of storage space.


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