Traditionally painted on walls, Warli paintings are a vivid expression of daily and social events of the tribe and provide the only means of transmitting folklore to a community not acquainted with the written word.
Why should I be aware of this?
- They are an example of diversity in Indian art.
- They tell us about life and communication in those days.
- Warli Paintings are very different from other folk and tribal paintings in India.
All about Warli Paintings
While there are no records of the exact origins of this art, its roots may be traced to as early as the 10th century AD. Research suggests that the Warlis are the propagators of a tradition which originated some time in the Neolithic period between 2,500 BC and 3,000 BC.
Characteristics of Warli Paintings
The Warli art form is similar to the pre-historic cave paintings in its execution. These extremely rudimentary paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square. 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. 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. While men and women are depicted in almost identical fashion, the only differentiator is the little knot of hair in the form of a bun, that indicates Warli women.
Stylistically, Warli Paintings can be recognized by the fact that they are painted on an austere mud base using one color, white, with occasional dots in red and yellow. The white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binding agent. This sobriety is offset by the ebullience of their content. Traditionally, when painting the mud walls, the Warlis use a bamboo stick chewed at the end, to make it work like a paintbrush. Even now, when they paint on cloth, they use a narrow stick dipped in white rice flour paste.
Unlike the realism of Kishangarh Paintings, the themes in Warli paintings are highly repetitive and symbolic. Many of the Warli paintings that represent Palghat, the god of marriage and fertility, often include a horse used by the bride and groom. The painting is sacred and without it, the marriage cannot take place.
In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes make one line.
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 also depicted, frequently in action. Other elements in nature like streams and rocks are also featured. The 'Tree of Life' and the 'Tarpa' dance are significant images often seen in Warli art. The Tarpa is a trumpet like instrument and many Warli paintings will have a tarpa player surrounded by drummers and dancing men and women.
The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These days, even men have taken to painting and they are often done on Handmade Paper incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs with modern elements such as the bicycle etc.
The Artists of Warli
Originally, Warlis were hunters and so the motifs in their paintings were based on hunting. Today, most of the tribals have shifted to cultivation and work according to the monsoon, and the themes in their paintings have changed. Traditionally, only women practiced this art form on the interior walls of their mud houses.
Understanding Warli Paintings
Although the Warlis live very close to Mumbai, India’s largest metropolis, they shun all influences of modern urbanization. Even though many paint for commercial gain today, they have continued to adhere to old themes and motifs that can only be appreciated by those who know and understand Warli culture.
Warlis worship nature in many forms – sun and moon, god of thunder, lightning, wind, rain etc. Different gods are worshipped in different seasons. In the coming of the first rice crop, they worship the god of rain in a festival called Naranadeva. In other festivals that follow, the Warlis worship the goddesses of fertility, household peace, harvest and many more.
For the Warlis, life is an eternal circle. At all occasions – birth, marriage, and death they draw circles, symbol of Mother Goddess. Death is not the end for them; rather it is a new beginning. Which is why circles best represent the art of Warli, which has neither an end nor a beginning.
Different from Other Paintings
Warli Paintings are very different from other folk and tribal paintings in India. Their themes are not mythological, nor their colors as bright as the ones seen in Madhubani Paintings. Neither do they contain the robust sensuality of the paintings found in Eastern India. Instead they are painted on mud, charcoal, cow dung based surface using Natural Dyes in white with series of dots in red and yellow.
Their linear nature and monochromatic hues make them similar to pre-historic cave paintings and Aboriginal Art in execution. Warli Paintings usually depict scenes of human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting. These paintings also serve social and religious aspirations of the local people, since it is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods.
Warli Paintings Today
Warli paintings were never originally intended to be used for commercial gains. However, after they were discovered twenty five years ago, they became instantly popular, probably because they evoked the trumpets, drumbeats and songs of the Warli tribe through their simple motifs. Soon the tribals realized that the sale of their paintings made economic sense. Today, Warli paintings on Handmade Paper and cloth have become very popular and are sold all over India.