Warli Painting

tarpa dance warli painting


Warli Art and Warli painting are tribal art done majorly by the Adivasi community located in North Sahyadri Range in western India. The Warli community is the largest tribe located on the outskirts of Mumbai. Despite its close proximity to Mumbai, the Warli tribesmans have been able to shun most influences caused by urbanisation. The art-form was first discovered in the early seventies. But It is believed to be one of the oldest kinds of art forms in history. According to Yashodhara Dalmia, “when Warli painting was first discovered in the early 1970s, it created a huge sensation in many aspects because these paintings were very unique to that of other folk paintings in India.”

While there are no records of the exact origins of this art, its roots may be traced to as early as the 10th century A.D. Their extremely rudimentary wall paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square. Their paintings were monosyllabic. The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature, the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived 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.

It is pretty popular in India and has a distinct charm everywhere it is expressed, but it has not gained much recognition outside its territory. A majority of the warli tribes are known to reside near the base of the Sahyadri mountains spread across the northern side of Mumbai viz. Javhar, Dahanu, Talasari, Mokhada, Wada and Palghar villages. The art has received immense popularity at both international and national platforms because of its simplicity in shapes, use of single white colour, requirement of minimum tools and creation of beautiful motifs by using simple lines, triangles, squares, circles and dots.

Picture of warli art painting

Painted prayers, Warli paintings, at Sanskriti Kendra, Anandagram, New Delhi.

Origion of The Warli Painting

Warli art and warli paintings have a rich and ancient history. These paintings most resemble prehistoric cave paintings and their origins have been dated back to 2500 to 3000 BCE, the Warli paintings form was not known until the 1970s. Warli art as an art-form is extremely well-preserved and has been imbibed into the tribal communities and passed from generation to generation. The Warli Painting tradition in Maharashtra are among the finest examples of the folk style of paintings. 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. Warli paintings of Maharashtra revolve around the marriage of God Palghat.

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 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.

warli art painting

Warli Painting

warli painting on house

Warli Painting on the house wall

Believed to invoke the powers of the Gods, Warli paintings depicting Gods and Goddesses were originally done only for ceremonial and religious occasions. In late 1970s, artist Jivya Soma Mashe started practising Warli art. Born in 1934 in the Thane district of Maharashtra, Jivya Soma took up Warli, a predominantly ritual art and radically changed it from ut begin used for special occasions to being used on a daily basis. His work was recognised nationally and internationally with political figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi and by centres such as Magiciens de la terre, Centre Pompidou. Jivya was able to showcase a “heightened sensitivity and unusually powerful imagination” which were the highlight of his earlier introspective work.

Jivya Soma Mashe summed up the deep feeling which animates the Warli people, saying "There are human beings, birds, animals, insects, and so on. Everything moves, day and night. Life is movement". He received the Padma Shri award for his contribution towards Warli painting. He introduced Warli to the world as an art form and inspired many tribal youth to practice Warli as commercial art. He died aged 84 on 14 May 2018 and was accorded a state funeral.

Works of Jivya Soma Mashe at the exhibition, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. Photo by Jean-Pierre

Works of Jivya Soma Mashe at the exhibition, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. Photo by Jean-Pierre

Jivya Soma Mashe at work in front of his house, 2009. Photo by Romain Mounier-Poulat

Jivya Soma Mashe at work in front of his house, 2009. Photo by Romain Mounier-Poulat 

Designs and Styles of Warli Paintings

These rudimentary murals use a set of basic geometric shapes: a circle, a triangle, and a square. These shapes are symbolic of different elements of nature. The circle and the triangle come from his observation of nature. The circle represents the sun and moon, while the triangle represents mountains and cone-shaped trees. Instead, the place is presented as a human invention, pointing to a sacred precinct or piece of land. The central motif of every ritual painting is the square,
known as "Chauk" or "Chaukat", mainly of two types: Devchauk and Lagnachauk. In a devchauk there is usually a depiction of Palaghat, the mother goddess symbolizing brotherhood.

Male gods are uncommon among the Warli and are often associated with spirits that have taken human form. The central motif of the ritual painting is surrounded by scenes of hunting, fishing, farming, trees, and animals. Feasts and dances are familiar scenes depicted in ritual paintings. Geometrical shapes play an important role in Warli paintings. Circles represent the sun and moon, while Two inverted triangles represent humans and animals connected at their points: the upper triangle represents the torso and the lower triangle represents the pelvis. Its precarious balance symbolizes the balance of the universe. The performance also has the practical and entertaining benefit of animating the bodies. Another major theme of Warli art is the designation of a larger triangle at the top, representing a man; and a wider triangle below depicting a woman. Besides ritual paintings, other Warli paintings covered the daily activities of the village people.

warli painting

Village Scene Warli art

Devchauk&Lagnchauk Motif in Warli Art

Devchauk&Lagnchauk Motif in Warli Art

Along with ritual depictions of Gods and Goddesses. Depiction of the Mother Goddess as the symbol of fertility, as well as the "Tarpa dance" are common themes. The tarpa, a trumpet-like instrument played in turns, features often at the centre of the paintings, around whom entwined men and women move in a circle. This is believed to resemble the circle of life.

The musician plays two different notes, which direct the head dancer to either move clockwise or counterclockwise. The tarpa player assumes a role similar to that of a snake charmer, and the dancers become the figurative snake. The dancers take a long turn in the audience and try to encircle them for entertainment. The circle formation of the dancers is also said to resemble the circle of life.

Material Used

The simple pictorial language of Warli painting is matched by a rudimentary technique. The ritual paintings are usually created on the inside walls of village huts. The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth and red brick that make a red ochre background for the paintings. The Warli only paint with a white pigment made from a mixture of rice flour and water, with gum as a binder. A bamboo stick is chewed at the end to give it the texture of a paintbrush. Walls are painted only to mark special occasions such as weddings, festivals or harvests. They make it with a sense that it can be seen by future generations.

Tarpa player

Tarpa player

Jivya Soma Mashe, Tarpana, c. 2001, rice paste and gerue on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia.

Jivya Soma Mashe, Tarpana, c. 2001, rice paste and gerue on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia.

In contemporary culture

Based on their ancient beliefs and superstitions, the Warli tribespeople are also known for their practice of speaking very little – an often-remarked upon feature of the tribe. It is not that surprising then, that Warli artists put their heart and soul into their paintings, using it as a mode of expression, and a medium to pass down tribal culture and history across generations. A visual narration of the rich legacy of one of India’s most ancient tribes, Warli art speaks to us of the significance of man’s relationship with nature and his community. It captures the very ethos of India’s indigenous ancestors, and brings to the forefront a true reflection of India’s rich heritage.

The lack of regular artistic activity explains the traditional tribal sense of style for their paintings. In the 1970s, this ritual art took a radical turn when Jivya Soma Mashe and his son Balu Mashe started to paint. They painted not for ritual purposes, but because of their artistic pursuits. Jivya is known as the modern father of Warli painting. Since the 1970s, Warli painting has moved onto paper and canvas.

Coca-Cola India launched a campaign featuring Warli painting in order to highlight the ancient culture and represent a sense of togetherness. The campaign was called "Come Home on Deepawali" and specifically targeted the modern youth. The campaign included advertising on traditional mass media, combined with radio, the Internet, and out-of-home media

Artisan making Warli Art on the Wall

Artisan making Warli Art on the Wall

Evolution of Warli Paintings

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 painting, painting of Maharashtra 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. They are becoming increasingly popular and highly liked, from pots and vases to bedsheets and curtain prints. 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!

Warli painted product

Warli painted product

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