You know Warli Art, but do you really know Warli Art?


What is Warli art? 

Warli Art or Warli painting is a tribal art form practised by an Adivasi community called Warli. While the Warli community is present in a few parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, their largest presence is on the outskirts of Mumbai. Back in the day, this tribe was a gatherer of dry wood from trees and got their name from the Marathi word for dry firewood - 'Warhan'. 

How did Warli Art begin?

Warli art has its roots tracing back to the 10th century and has its origins in prehistoric cave paintings. As the art form was passed down through generations, it became an essential part of the Warli community's social and cultural lives. Traditional Warli art is painted for their tribe’s many customs, festivals, and to mark & celebrate milestones using natural materials like mud, cow dung and rice powder. Warli paintings are a vital part of the tribe’s cultural fabric. 
From its inception, Warli art was a ritualistic practice, painted only by married women or suvasinis

Mr Bhaskar Kulkarni played a crucial role in transitioning Warli art to what it is today. He motivated Warli artists to shift from painting on their hut walls to paper. 
Jivya Soma Mashe ji was the first male Warli artist to explore non-ritualistic Warli paintings & began to paint stories from their everyday village life. He broke the tradition of Warli art being a married woman art form and transitioned it to also be a storytelling art form.  

The Warli Community

The Warli tribespeople are primarily farmers and hunter-gatherers, therefore, have immense respect for nature, wildlife and everything that they provide. They are also very spiritual and believe in mystical events and links between the past-present-future. The Warli tribe is a very close-knit community that thrives on socialising, camaraderie and fellowship. They do not leave any opportunity to get together and have a good time accompanied by their favourite Tadi, scrumptious local food and goshtis Warli art is a detailed reflection of their daily lives in their villages. Be it everyday practices at the farm, a wedding, a village ceremony or a social gathering - they paint it all. The Warlis believe and practise that - 'We are if nature is' and represent nature as God in their paintings. They worship different nature gods and have beautiful folk stories and Warli paintings for each of them.

Along with illustrating the nitty-gritty of human-nature relationships, Warli art also effortlessly illustrates the beautiful interconnectedness of everything. Warli artists express and show us all of what they see, do, experience and believe in.
Warli paintings will always have nature at the core of them. They narrate stories of human-nature ties, cosmic connections and their daily lives. 

Warli paintings are two-dimensional and do not follow the rules of perspective and proportion. The paintings are a macro view of the story, similar to a drone shot from the sky. 

Warli Art does not use any primary colours. Their colour palette consists of earthy colours from their natural painting materials - mud, cow dung, charcoal and rice powder.  
Warli art uses basic geometric shapes and combinations to depict their stories. All derived from what they see in nature - triangles from mountains and tree tops, circles from the sun, moon and pebbles, and squares from their fields/lands.

A few prominent characteristics of a Warli painting are -

1.Humans and animals are illustrated using two triangles, representing the torso and the lower body.
2.Every Warli painting will always have a sun and moon in the top two corners. 
3.Painted with white on an earthy colour background. 

    Warli paintings are of two kinds - ritualistic and non-ritualistic or decorative.

    The non-ritualistic paintings depict stories from their everyday agrarian life, nature, and folk stories. The ritualistic paintings are done for religious ceremonies, weddings, and festivals; traditionally painted by married women.

    Two important ritualistic paintings are - 

    The Warli Marriage painting
    A group of 4-5 married women come together on the first day of the wedding festivities, sing folk songs and paint for the bride and groom. This painting comprises 2 main elements the Lagna Chowk (Marriage square) and the Dev Chowk ( God Square). This painting is done to bless the couple with a happy married life. 

    The Warli tribe celebrate their rice harvests coming home by imprinting fists or muthis on their house walls, granaries and rice baskets. 
    This practice is performed by suvasinis of each home. Muthis and their repetition symbolise abundance and protection of their food. 
    It is also a reminder to be respectful of their food. 

    A very popular non-ritualistic Warli painting is the  
    Tarpa Dance
    The Warli community is famous for their Tarpa music and dance. Tarpa is a musical instrument that is locally made with natural materials. The community dances around the Tarpa player in a spiral, matching their steps and rhythm to the beats of the Tarpa.  A compulsory and popular  activity on festivals and celebrations, the Tarpa dance and music is a unique experience.  

    How is a Warli painting made?

    Traditionally Warli painting is done on mud-plastered walls of their huts. Along with non-ritualistic subjects & stories to illustrate, the commercialisation of the art form has enabled the shift from the base being walls to fabric.

    The  basic process of making a Warli painting is -
    1.The background is painted/plastered either with cow dung or mud mixed with a little bit glue.
    2. Then the motifs are painted with bamboo sticks using the rice powder, glue and water mixture. Catch a glimpse of how a Warli painting comes to life here.


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