Warli painting: Maharashtra’s 10th-century tribal folk art moves from mud walls to modern living rooms

Warli painting: Maharashtra’s 10th-century tribal folk art moves from mud walls to modern living rooms

Warli painting: Maharashtra’s 10th-century tribal folk art moves from mud walls to modern living rooms 30stades

Warli painting is a tribal folk art of Maharashtra characterized by simplicity of design and depiction of the daily life of the Warli Adivasi community. Said to be over a thousand years old, the paintings were traditionally made only by women of the Warli tribe who inhabit the northern Sahyadri Range on the outskirts of Mumbai.

These paintings were earlier done on a mud base using only white colour made from rice flour.

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The walls were smoothened with cow dung and mud, and rice flour was mixed with water to paint with bamboo sticks.

Sometimes, dots in red and yellow were also added to the paintings. With time, however, other colours also began to be used and the canvas moved beyond mud walls to wood, metals, ceramic, terracotta, paper and fabrics. The fabric is prepared by giving it a light wash with dung or red earth and then painting is done.

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Warli paintings as well as artefacts painted with the art have become popular both within India and abroad. Many people outside the Warli community are now learning the art due to its growing popularity and demand.

The art & its past

While there is no proof of the origin of Warli paintings, they are said to have been first made in the 10th century on walls of houses of Warli tribe members.

Unlike some communities, which do not allow their women members to paint, Warli art was earlier done only by women. 

Now, men have also started making Warli paintings. The credit for popularising Warli art outside Maharashtra goes to artist Jivya Soma Mashe, who received the Padma Shri in 2011. He began making Warli paintings daily, not restricting them to occasions and rituals. He also started to paint on canvas, freeing the beautiful art from the restrictions of mud. 

Warli paintings depict the daily life of the community. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Warli paintings depict the daily life of the community. Pic: Flickr

Unlike most other folk paintings of India, which draw heavily from religious texts, epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, and deities, Warli art focuses on the social life of the tribe. So the Warli paintings depict scenes of fishing, farming, harvesting, hunting, the celebration of festivals, dances, trees and animals. 

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The Warli art uses three basic shapes – circle, triangle and square, each depicting a part of Mother Nature.

While the circle is symbolic of the sun and the moon, the triangle represents mountains and trees, and the square denotes a piece of land.

Humans and animals are represented by two triangles joined at the tip, and simple lines are used to depict arms and legs. A circle represents the head. Triangles, circles and squares are also used to create other elements of the scenery like huts, well and trees. The paintings resemble pre-historic cave paintings.

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It’s not surprising that the Warlis have been able to maintain the original cave-style of paintings. Despite living near Mumbai, the tribe has not adopted a modern lifestyle and follows its traditions and rituals. This has helped preserve the originality of the Warli art as well. 

The art has now found global patrons and pieces are sold internationally through online art stores and directly by some artists. Here are some Warli paintings:

The Warli art uses three basic shapes – circle, triangle and square, each depicting a part of Mother Nature. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The Warli art uses three basic shapes – circle, triangle and square, each depicting a part of Mother Nature. Pic: Flickr
Humans and animals are represented by two triangles joined at the tip, and simple lines are used to depict arms and legs. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Humans and animals are represented by two triangles joined at the tip, and simple lines are used to depict arms and legs. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: How Kalyan Joshi has made Rajasthan’s 1,000-year-old Phad paintings trendy

Artist Jivya Soma Mashe is credited with popularising Warli art outside Maharashtra. He was conferred with the Padma Shri in 2011. Pic: By Romain Mounier-Poulat/Flickr 30stades
Artist Jivya Soma Mashe is credited with popularising Warli art outside Maharashtra. He was conferred with the Padma Shri in 2011. Pic: By Romain Mounier-Poulat/Wikipedia
Warli art on a wall in Mysore. Pic: Wikimedia Commons 30stades
Warli art on a wall in Mysore. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

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Warli art on terracotta ware. Pic: Flickr
Warli art on terracotta handicrafts. Pic: Flickr
Warli painting on a living room's wall. Pic: Wikimedia commons 30stades
Warli painting on a living room’s wall. Pic: Wikimedia Commons
The fabric for Warli painting is prepared by giving it a light wash with dung or red earth and then painting is done. Pic: Flickr
The fabric for Warli painting is prepared by giving it a light wash with dung and then painting is done. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: Cheriyal: How Telangana’s centuries-old scroll art continues to educate and entertain even today

A Warli painting depicting celebration through dance and music. Pic: Flickr 30stades
A Warli painting depicting celebration through dance and music. Pic: Flickr
The widening canvas of Warli paintings. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The widening canvas of Warli paintings. Pic: Flickr

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