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Home >> Indian Painting Styles >> Warli Tribal Paintings

Warli Tribal Paintings



Warli tribal paintings belong to the state of Maharashtra, in Western India. The Warli paintings were discovered by the world as late as the seventh decade of the last century. This art form is simple in comparison to the vibrant paintings from Madhubani. The only color used in creating Warli paintings is white. This color is obtained from grounding rice into white powder.

These paintings are mainly created on mud walls of tribal houses. Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings.These paintings do not depict mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life. Images of human beings and animals, along with scenes from daily life are created in a loose rhythmic pattern. Nestled at the foot of the Western Ghat Range in Maharashtra, India, is the settlement of an ancient tribe known as the Warlis. These tribal people, who survive on forest produce and worship nature, have carved an international niche for themselves by virtue of their artistry. What originated as a domestic ritual of ceremonial beautification is now revered as a folk art of immense value.

The name of the clan has given the name to the art form and today we know it as the Warli Paintings. Artist and scholars believe the painting style to have originated sometime during the tenth century AD, but considering its simple yet vivid expression in form and figures, this school of painting might even be regarded as following a tradition that originated some time in the Neolithic period between 2,500 BC and 3,000 BC.



The noble civilizing mission of the educated society was yet to reach the clay huts and thatched roofs of the Warlis. Thus, painting figures and diagrams was the only way for these non-lettered people to transmit their hereditary knowledge, folklore and good wishes. Women were the main repositories of this heritage. While the `suvasins' (married women, not widowed) did the paintings, the 'Dhavaleris' (the married female priests) sang traditional songs. The walls were first given a thorough wash with wet cow dung.  On this red mud was smeared. This gave the walls a brownish finish. Women used bamboo twigs and thin rice paste to draw designs. These paintings were perishable and they were repeatedly erased and replaced by new paintings during different rituals.

Warli paintings express everyday life using extremely basic object forms and just one colour - white - on an austere mud base. The painting style is close to pre-historic cave paintings. It breaks the barrier of three-dimensional rendering and the objects seldom overlap. The appeal of these monochrome compositions with rudimentary object forms lies in their lack of pretentiousness in conveying the profound. The core philosophy and social history of a tribal society are conveyed through these paintings in all their humble renderings.

Each painting is usually an entire scene that contains various elements of nature including people, animals, trees, hills etc. The thread that binds all these loose elements can be events like a marriage, a dance, sowing, harvesting or hunting. Different varieties of trees are drawn in detail forming intricate decorative patterns. Birds, squirrels, monkeys, snakes and other animals are frequently depicted. Natural elements like streams and rocks are also featured. The themes are often repetitive and symbolic in nature.

Warli paintings serve the social and religious aspirations of the people. It is believed that the paintings invoke divine blessings. Many of the Warli paintings contain the auspicious image of the marriage God or 'Palghat' and a marriage 'Chowkatt' (a design made at the time of marriage). However, unlike the other folk arts in India, Warlis do not narrate mythology or epic, but depict their simple social life through their art. Human beings, animals and all things natural are imaginatively recreated in a loose rhythmic pattern. The prevalence of nature in the Warli paintings indicates that these people not only survive on forest, but they are actually a part of nature herself. They plead with and please the gods who give them rains and sun shine, good crops and healthy animals.

Warli paintings are characterized by their depiction of triangular humans and animals with stick-like hands and legs, geometrical designs with rows of dots and dashes. Straight lines were rare in Warli paintings. A series of dots and dashes made one line. However, with the recent international exposure, the artists have started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These days, even men have taken to painting and they are often done on paper or cloth incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs with modern elements.

Thus, Warli, the fine Indian tribal Art has made its way to the world market and has become one of the priced possessions of art galleries and private collectors all across the world.



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