Orissa has an age old tradition of Painting which stretches from the prehistoric rock shelters to the temples and mathas of this century. Out of these the traditional painters , the tribal painter , the folk and rock painters are of significance.
Orissa has a rich tribal culture. The Sauras, the Kondhs and the Santals decorate their houses with motifs of flowers, birds and geometrical designs. The Saura paintings are intimately related to religious beliefs and drawn in order to appease demigods and spirits. On the occasion of animal sacrifices, the Sauras draw ittals on their walls. The themes of these paintings are usually dream sequences. A medley of objects such as a comb or even a bicycle map figure in modem Saura paintings. The Kondh wall paintings are generally in the form of geometrical designs. Santals also paint their houses with figurative patterns.
Painted rock shelters are situated in the densely wooded tracts of western Orissa. The rock shelters at Ulapgarh and Vikram Khol in Sambalpur district, Manikmada and Ushakothi in Sundargarh district, Gudahandi and Yogimatha in Kalahandi district, offer the joy of discovering a primitive culture, rare in the whole of Eastern India. There are natural rocks in these areas covered with prehistoric paintings. The Ravana Chhata Rock al Sitabinjhee of Keonjhar district contains a painting of a very high order. It depicts the procession scene of a King riding a caparisoned elephant. There are horse-riders and soldiers on the march holding shafts and banners, followed by a female attendant. This painting carries reminiscence of Aianta murals.
The rock painting in these natural caves are coloured with the help of a twig of a palm tree turned into a brush by hammering its fibrous end. The paintings differ from place to place. For example, in most rock shelters the paintings are mostly linear. But in Manikamada, the paintings have a more pictorial quality and are of a greater variety and range in their depiction of figures and nature. Here the paintings have received several coats of paint and are thick in texture, while there are some others, which have been very roughly sketched. At Yogimath the painting are clear and rendered in red-orche lines. Usually the rear walls and ceilings covered with paintings. While the painting on the walls follow a sequential, horizontal pattern, those on the ceiling have no definite scheme of composition. It is interesting to note that the paintings range from small geometrical and floral patterns to big animal motifs like deer, cattle, stag and sambar. Where human figures are present, they are shown as hunting, domesticating animals, fighting and dancing.
The pigments used by the rock painters are oxides of iron which give the colours red and brown; white is derived from lime and green from copper compounds. These colours are mostly available near the rock shelters. Obviously these paintings have been done by primitive men, the ancestors of the tribals of Central India and Western Orissa. This rock tradition of pictorical painting is carried into the sent day in the mural paintings of tribals. The paintings of the Saura tribals in Koraput and Ganjam districts still retain the freshness and vigour of rock paintings.