Arts of India – Warli

Following last month’s Introductory Article in the local Indian monthly newspaper called Valley India Times, this month I take you to the world of Warli Paintings.

Arts of India – Warli

If we were asked to name a few things that define the state of Maharashtra what would we put on our lists? Let’s see, we would most definitely start with the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, follow that with the glitz and glamour of Bollywood, the saffrons of Shiv Sena, all the delicious varieties of food and maybe, the famous monsoon that transforms the Sahyadris into lush getaways for the people of Mumbai. That would bring us right back to the city. Away from this vicious circle formed by all the enchanting lead characters is yet another element that has been playing a defining role silently on the side lines. I’m talking about the Warli tribe and their unique art work that has stood the test of time for more than four thousand years.

The people of the Warli tribe live in the western part of Maharashtra and have carried their traditional art form for ages, from their cave dwelling days to their present villages. Their lifestyle is one that revolves around nature and keeps them close to their source of life, their land. In fact the word “Warli” comes from “Warla” which means land. In reverence of this, their paintings feature elements of Mother Nature and the earth. Using circles to depict the sun and the moon, and triangles to depict mountains and trees, they produce works of art that tell a story of a minimalist life. The paintings are done as murals on walls made of mud and cowdung and that’s why it’s common to see them with a dark background. The foreground is white since it’s painted with a paste of rice flour and water. Even though they are not colorful like other Indian art forms, they are culturally rich and informative. Most Warli paintings have dance and musical depictions, sacred symbols and scenes from daily life. The wedding ceremony and its celebrations are one of the most intricate compositions, with a blessing from the Goddess of fertility, Palaghata, a decorated horse for the groom, a welcoming home for the couple and an energetic wedding party immersed in music and dance. The Warli people get together in big numbers to perform a dance, called Tarpana, which signifies infinity, with no end and no beginning, just an objective continuum.

The Warli philosophy promotes rituals, social and daily activities that keep the circle of life moving. Their paintings represent human beings not in detail, but in a clear and crisp manner, focusing more on teaching lessons and sharing knowledge by way of telling stories artistically. This role has mostly been played by our mothers who always seem to have creative ways of story telling and in the process leaving us with a moral. It’s no wonder that the act of creating Warli paintings was originally done just by the women of the tribe. With growing demand from the modern market Warli men have started painting too. Warli paintings today can be found in a state of fusion in the world of fashion and décor. This beautiful art form and the messages it conveys are slowly being accepted and appreciated. Even though the world around them has constantly changed, the Warlis have stayed their ground. They have seen every aspect of modern living come and go while maintaining timelessness in their tribe and their art.

Warli is not just Maharashtra’s, but even India’s, defining art form. Another example of such an art from is Madhubani. Join us next month as we take you from the discreet and stark Warli to the intricate and colorful Madhubani paintings.