“A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.” – Michelangelo
couldn’t be a more comprehensive summing up of the core emotion of Warli art.
An art form that is driven by everyday life stories and these tales also in
turn become a reminder of traditional values and cultures cherished by the
tribe. The Warlis believe that without the ahankaar, there is
no kahankar. They have an advanced notion of communication. A story
is not just a story, it is the passing of energy from narrator to listener.
Warli painting is a form of tribal mural art created by the tribal
people from the North Sahyadri Range in Maharashtra, India. The Warlis or
Varlis are an indigenous tribe living in mountainous as well as coastal areas
of Maharashtra and Gujarat. They speak an unwritten Varli language which
belongs to the southern zone of the Indo-Aryan languages. The Warli Tribesmen
and women are traditional storytellers; they follow the oral practice of
passing down traditions, knowledge and culture. This oral tradition translates
into beautifully painted elaborate tales on the wall of their houses, and other
common areas of the community.
These visual canvases capture their daily rhythms
in life; the forces of nature they worship, their simplistic belief systems,
their laughter, regret, victories and tears. Without even saying a single word,
an uncountable world of tales exists on the wall, some depicting everyday
activities like fishing, hunting, cooking, harvesting etc, while some others
more nuanced- teaching many lessons in life.
popular perception, the Warli Paintings of Maharashtra are very different from
other tribal and folk paintings in
India but similar in many ways with the African Zulu Paintings. Their themes
revolve around depiction of daily life activities rather than mythological
themes. Unlike Madhubani paintings that use bright colours, these are painted
on mud and cow dung-based surface using earth colours or rice paste in white.
From monochromatic appearance to simple designs and
authentic colors, warli paintings have been proved to gain real fame. They are
not really colorful, but they depict the scenes from social life of the tribe,
rather than religious or mythological characters. They depict different
activities such as hunting, harvesting, drawing water, fishing, dancing, etc.
The Warli tribe is one of the largest in India,
located outside of Mumbai. Despite being close to one of the largest cities in
India, the Warli reject much of contemporary culture. The style of Warli
painting was not recognised until the 1970s, even though the tribal style of
art is thought to date back as early as 10th century A.D. The Warli culture is
centered around the concept of Mother Nature and elements of nature are often
focal points depicted in Warli painting. Farming is their main way of life and
a large source of food for the tribe. They greatly respect nature and wildlife
for the resources that they provide for life. Warli artists use their clay huts
as the backdrop for their paintings, similar to how ancient people used cave
walls as their canvases.
These paintings seem to be nothing more than Warli
figures drawn in whites on rich dark walls to the untrained eye, but a closer
inspection shows that Warli is far more than meets the eye. To many, it may
seem like just a simple art form of India. Still, the Warli tribes located in
mountains and coastal regions in and around Maharashtra and Gujarat's borders
are warli painting states. The origin of Warli art can be traced back to around
3000 BC and seems to have an enigmatic appeal to it. Even though the tribal art
style dates back to the 10th century A.D., the Warli paintings form was not
known until the 1970s. Although the primary way of life and a significant food
source for the tribe was farming, they had great respect for nature and
wildlife for the resources they provided for life. On various occasions, this
type of painting was mainly centred around the concept of mother nature and its
elements. Quite often, multiple parts of nature are the focal points that are
further accentuated in these paintings. A fascinating fact about Warli artists
is that they used their clay huts as the backdrop for their masterpieces, much
like how ancient people utilised their cave walls as canvases.
In the 1970s this ritual art took a radical turn,
when Jivya Soma Mashe and his son Balu Mashe started to paint, not for any
special ritual, but because of his artistic pursuits. “Our history is not written, it
is drawn: we tell you stories, we tell you about our life”, said Jivya Soma
Mashe. Mashe as the recognised father of modern Warli painting and Ramesh
Hengadi as a follower who has developed his own distinctive style in response to
the changes in community life and shifts in local and global economies. Hengadi
has participated in a series of nter.
Over, the years Warli paintings have evolved
drastically. Initially, these beautiful masterpieces were curated on mud walls
with a paste of rice and water that was used to paint the characters on the
canvas and chewed bamboo sticks were used to act as paintbrushes; since then,
warli painting characters came into the picture. But, on the other hand, today
the conventional paints and paintbrushes can create an end product just the
same. Other than that, Warli paintings are not just restricted to the
traditional mud walls anymore. They’ve expanded on a great scale in the home
decor industry and seem to be growing day by day. From pots and vases to
bedsheets and curtain prints, they are becoming increasingly popular and highly
liked. The textile and clothing industry is fond of this beautiful Indian art
form, not just the home decor world. These days witnessing a beautiful Warli
painting printed saree adorned by women on the street or the fashion show ramp
is a common sight that everyone very much likes.
Earlier warlas used to do the paintings on mud
walls of their own houses. In this folk art of painting, design is never traced
or drawn. It is a visualisation or creativity of artisan. Design is directly
painted on walls with wooden stick. Background of design is earthen colour or
reddish colour. House walls are painted with cow dung powder and coating is
given with geru powder. White paste is made from rice flour and paste is
prepared with water which was used for painting.
The attributes characterizing almost in Warli
1. Use of natural and
artificial white colour.
2. A border with
simple triangle, squares geometric figures.
3. Symbols like Sun,
Moon, Birds, Trees supporting the main theme.
4. Abstract-like Human
figures, figures of deities and Bride Bridegroom.
5. The faces of the
human figures are circle, body with two triangles and females are identified
with protruding curve line symbolising ponytail. Warli painting is an
emblematic expression of day-to-day experiences and beliefs. As such,
symbolism, simplicity and beauty hold them together in a single school of
The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth
and cow dung, making a red ochre background for the wall paintings. The warli
use only white for their paintings. Their white pigment is a mixture of rice
paste & water with gum as a binding. To create variations geru, Turmeric,
Kumkum, leaves, coloured flowers are used to extract natural dyes and gum from
trees are extracted. Black colour is extracted from charcoal and used to depict
cruel soul, red colour from Butea Monosperma (Palas) flowers used to show
existence of God Naradmuni and symbol of departed souls. Kumkum colour is used
as symbol of prosperity. Yellow colour is extracted from pineapple.
During marriages, Diwali festival, holi festival,
during the season of crop harvesting and during other rituals, painting is done
on warli’s pada with full of enthusiasm and freedom. Their folk dance, daily life
routine, Nature, gods and goddess, animals, birds,
and such similar themes are mainly used in painting. Through their artistic
living culture and movements of human figures, they imply certain meanings. The
warli painting essentially depicts the basic principles of life which are used
to depict human figures, animal’s figures, houses etc. ‘White colour’ is used
on a red earthen background. Warli paintings use a very basic graphic
vocabulary; a circle, a triangle & a square and paintings are monosyllabic.
The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature, the circle
representing the sun and the moon, the triangles come from mountains and
pointed trees. Only the square seems to obey a different logic and seems to be
a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land.
The central motif in each ritual painting is the
square, known as the “chauk”. Mostly Chauks are of 2 types: - Devchauk &
Lagnchauk. This motif is a square motif, drawn during marriage ceremony on
walls, which is known as “Devchauk” (God’s square). Inside a devchauk,
palaghat, the mother goddess symbolizing fertility is found. This process of
drawing square with God is called as “Chauk Lihine”. In the beginning, they
just draw a simple line for name of God which is known as “Devregh” (line for
The lines are drawn on name of bride and bridegroom.
In this motif, bride and bridegroom riding horse is depicted in the center of
square. This motif is painted mainly by married women by performing rituals.
Remaining part of it is painted with various motifs by women from their
families and boys and girls with cheerful gestures, a sort of group painting.
Tarpa dance is a folk dance of warli tribe. Tarpa
is a musical instrument of the tribe. “Tarpa” is made of dry bottlegourd,
bamboo tubes and bamboo sticks, cord and wax. This instrument is beautiful
looking and 2 feet to 6 feet in length. This dance is performed in circle by
male and females by clasping one another’s hands. Main Dance performer standing
in centre plays instrument Tarpa and Females get involved in this performance
with free mind. This dance is started at the time of sunset and performed till
sunrise of next day. So, sun and moon motifs are seen in this painting.
Sometimes boys and girls, they select their dance partner as life partner too
The central motif in these ritual paintings is
surrounded by scenes portraying, hunting, fishing, & farming, festivals
& dance, Human figures are represented by two triangles joined at the tip:
the upper triangle depicts the trunk & the lower triangle the pelvis.
Circle depicts the face without features like nose, eyes and ears. Males are
identified from bunch of hair is shown and females with special hairstyle in
circle called “Ambada”.
Circle is considered as symbol of lifecycle. Sun,
Moon, Trees, Creepers, birds, things used in day-to-day life, Nature and Gods
like vaghya god, Naran god and Panchshirya god motif is used to save family and
Himai goddess and Hirwai goddess are mainly symbol of nature, depicted in this painting.
As warlis are farmers, animal motifs like Cows,
Bulls, Cocks, Hens, Sheep’s, dogs are used in painting as these are domestic
animals. Bird motifs like Peacock, sparrow is seen sometimes snake, frog is
also seen. Peacock is a national beautiful bird depicted everywhere in
traditional textiles, embroideries and paintings in India. Frogs are depicted
for heavy rainfall; Scene of harvesting or farming is shown to grow grains in
ample amount and prosperity.
Snake motif is painted during special festival of
snakes on which day real snakes are worshipped called “Nagpanchami”.
Holi festival is the New year celebration of
Maharashtrian people mainly celebrated in the month of March.
Marriage is one of the most important themes in
warli art. A warli painting on marriage on clearly show their marriage god,
Palghat, birds, trees, men & women dancing in circles, various celebration,
bride and Bridegroom.
While the reaping season scene is shown by the
laborers cutting the crops in the field. On the other hand, modern adaptations
in warli art include bicycles & transistors as well apart from flora and
fauna. Musicians and agriculture being the traditional one.
Their society is more egalitarian, leaning towards
a matriarchy, there are a myriad of stories with feminist undertones. In the
Warlis, no woman can be married against her will, nor can she be forced to stay
in a marriage. If a couple elopes and spends three days together, when they
return to their homes, they can get married irrespective of their family’s
wishes. The concept of dowry is reversed and turned into ‘bride price’. One is
taking an able-bodied woman away from her family, so the man needs to pay a
price for it. Earlier it used to be paddy or rice, now it is clothes or money.
Weddings are conducted by a priestess dhaulerin, assisted by a
group of suhasins. The importance given to communality is another
feature their stories reveal. The idea of owning property or lands did not
exist among them before the British rule. Children hunt together, learning from
older children. And each child gets equal share of the hunt.
With the back-to-the-roots movement taking over
every part of our lives, art lovers flaunt the Warli motif with pride.
Traditionally, this painting is done on a red ochre background with white paint
and these are the only two colours used. But, today, a variety of colours are
being used to replicate these artistic motifs on fabrics, home décor or
other artistic forms. The first transition of Warli art into the outside world
was by means of the change in medium of painting. It began to be made on paper
that promised better durability and longevity of the paintings. Sections of the
Warli community slowly came in touch with the urban lifestyle. Many of them
completely migrated to the mainstream urban culture in pursuit of better
There are some excellent examples of the display of
Warli art in public spotlights. An entire colossal wall of the Tony Garnier
Urban Museum was painted in an exquisite display of a Warli canvas. In 1993, a
Warli artist named Shantaram Chintya Tumbada was approached for this work which
was a part of a series of five paintings for depicting the five continents on
the walls of the museum. As a result, this massive mural of Warli art is
showcased on the museum wall at Lyon in France. In India, Warli artist Rajesh
Chaitya Vangad has his works displayed on the walls of Mumbai International
Airport and at Homi Bhaba Block of Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel, Mumbai
Simple Splendours Of The Tribal Life
Of all those who are taking inspiration from this
art, the lifestyle sector is the one that is most fascinated by its richness.
It would be surprising if such a beautiful art form is missing from the
innovations by the fashion industry. Warli art
has a charm of being on the lines of intricate village art that could be
adapted to linen collections of earthy and neutral colours. While sarees with
Warli prints have a unique aesthetic appeal, the fashion walks have witnessed
the use of this curious art style on semi dresses, kurtis, pallazzos and other fashion
novelties. The use of Warli art style was also witnessed under the Grassroot
label of designer wears by Anita Dongre when she unveiled her collections at
Lakme Fashion Week Winter Fest 2015. From brightly coloured umbrellas to coffee
mugs and tea cups, rustic wall clocks, accents for walls and stationery — Warli
is pretty much everywhere. In the past, the famed Indian designer Archana
Kochhar introduced the indigenous Warli Art at New York Fashion Week (NYFW), as
a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India campaign. It
demonstrated how figurines in Warli can be captured very beautifully in our
fashion with contemporary silhouettes. Hence, from adorning the borders of
colourful scarves and kurtis to embellishing the luxurious jute and silk
sarees, Warli has taken over the ramp for good.
Today, Warli art has come along a long way to be
filtered into present fashion and design creations. Once a simple painting
technique of a marginal Indian tribe, the Warli paintings have an international
exposure by virtue of talented artists. It is indeed heart-warming to see that
an ancient art style which is also an element of the Indian national heritage,
continuing to flourish in modern times.
1. Dalmia Y. The painted world of Warlis: A
tribal worldview. Concent Publishing Company, Bombay, 1988, 22-34.
2. Doshi S. Tribal India Ancestors Gods and
spirits. Marg publication, Bombay, 1992, 52-66.
3. Gupta C. Indian Folk and Tribal
Paintings. Roli Books, New Delhi, 2008, 36-45.
4. Jain J. Painted Myths of creation, Art
and Ritual of Indian tribe. Mapin Publishing, New Delhi, 1984, 10-15.
5. Mookerjee A. Folk art of India. Clarion
Books, New Delhi, 1986, 42-55
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