Warli paintings


The WARLIS are an indigenous tribe living in mountainous as well as coastal areas of Maharashtra-Gujarat border and surrounding areas.  They speak an unwritten WARLI language, classified as KONKANI, with some degree of influence from GUJARATI.  They have their own animistic beliefs, life, customs and traditions as a result of acculturation they have adopted many Hindu beliefs.

In the Book : THE PAINTED WORLD OF THE WARLIS, Yashodhara Dalmia, claimed that the WARLIS carry on a tradition stretching back to 2,500 or 3,000 BCE.  Their mural paintings are similar to those done between 500 and 10,000 BCE in the Rock Shelters of BHIMBETKA, in Madhya Pradesh.


Everything about WARLI is earthy and soothing.  It takes you back to the paintings’ provenance, where you could almost smell the wet soil, feel the touch of the calloused hand that painted the background and admire the meticulous brush strokes of the rural artist who created the masterpiece.  WARLI paintings succeed in adding elegance  to a rural hut or a five-star hotel lobby with the same charm.
No wonder designers were so enthralled by the ‘art form’, that they decided to create an entire line of dresses based on WARLI paintings.  Designers have used very traditional patterns, rich and folksy colours to create the magic.  
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’.


So, the central motive in each ‘ritual painting’ is the ‘square’, known as the CHAUK or CHAUKAT, mostly of two types. : DEVCHAUK & LAGNACHAUK.  Inside a DEVCHAUK, we find PALAGHATA, the Mother Goddess, symbolizing ‘fertility’.  Significantly, Male Gods are unusual among the WARLI and are frequently related to ‘spirits which have taken human shape’.

The central motive, in these ‘ritual paintings’, is surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing and farming.  Human and animal bodies are represented by ‘two triangles joined at the tip’ : the Upper Triangle depicts the “trunk” and the Lower Triangle the “pelvis”.  Their precarious equilibrium symbolises the balance of the Universe, and of the couple, and has the practical and amusing advantage of animating the bodies.

Warli Art music

The pared down pictorial language is matched by a rudimentary technique.   The ‘ritual paintings’ are usually done inside the huts.  The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth and cow dung, making a RED OCHRE background for the wall paintings.  Their white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as binding.  They use a bamboo stick, chewed at the end to make it as supple as a paintbrush.  The wall paintings are done only for special occasions such as weddings or harvests.  The lack of regular artistic activity explains the very crude style of their paintings, which were the preserve of the womenfolk until the 1970s.  But, 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.  WARLI paintings also featured in Coco-Cola’s COME HOME ON DIWALI ad campaign in 2010, and was a tribute to the spirit of India’s Youth and a recognition of the distinct lifestyle of the WARLI Tribe.

Warli art decor

WARLI ART is Cultural Intellectual Property of the tribal community.  Today, there is an urgent need for preserving this traditional knowledge in tribal communities across the globe.  Understanding the need for Intellectual Property Rights, tribal non-profit organisation ——- ADIVASI YUVA SEVA SANGH ———- initiated efforts to start a registration process in 2011.  Now, WARLI PAINTING is registered with a Geographical Indication under the WARLI ART FOUNDATION, a non-profit Company dedicated to WARLI ART and related activities.


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