Warli Art – An Introduction

Warli painting originated in Maharashtra, it was created and is practised by the tribal people from the North Sahyadri Range in India. It is said that this art form originated around 3000 BC.

The Warli tribes who are forest-dwellers have made a gradual evolution towards being a pastoral society. A large concentration is found in the Thane district, off Mumbai. Although economically challenged, they still maintain their indigenous customs and native traditions.


The Warli figures are painted in white on red ochre walls, the elaborate and detailed geometric patterns of flowers, wedding rituals, hunting scenes and other everyday activities form the main subjects of the paintings. Much like the ancient humans who used cave walls to capture their day to day activities through cave paintings, the Warli tribe portrays their simple and beautiful life through these paintings on the walls of their mud huts. The most significant aspect of this form of painting is that, unlike other rural or tribal paintings, it does not illustrate any mythological characters, images of divinity or God and Goddesses. Figures of human beings, elements of nature and animals, along with scenes from daily life and festivals or celebrations are used in a free metrical pattern to create them.

The Technique

These wall paintings use a set of basic geometric shapes namely a circle, a triangle, and a square. These shapes are symbolic of different elements of nature. The sun and the moon are represented through circles, the trees and mountains take triangular shapes, the squares are used to denote sacred enclosures or pieces of land. The square motif in the centre for ritualistic paintings is known as the “chalk” or “Shaukat”, and is generally of two types known as Devchauk and Lagnachauk.

Gods in the male form are not usual amongst the Warli, and they are related to spirits which have taken human shape. Hunting, fishing, farming, trees and animals surround the central motif. Dance scenes and depiction of festivals are also a recurring theme in these paintings. Two inverse triangles joined at the hip area forms a human or an animal figure. They are symmetrical in their dimensions portraying the balance present in the universe. In the human figures, the males are given a bigger triangle at the torso and the women are given a bigger triangle at the lower part of the body. Many paintings have dancers in a circle following an instrument player, the circle formation of the dancers is also said to resemble the circle of life.


The colours and Materials used:

The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth and red brick that make a red ochre background for the paintings. The Warli only paint with a white pigment made from a mixture of rice paste and water, with gum as a binder. The paintbrush is made out of bamboo sticks whose ends have been chewed to give it a texture ideal for painting.

Contemporary culture and current scenario of the art form:

In the 1970s, Warli artists, Jivya Soma Mashe and his son Balu Mashe started to bring to the world their creations, they were the first ones to start doing it for artistic expression rather than just ritualistic paintings.  Jivya is known as the modern father of Warli painting. Since the 1970s, Warli painting has moved onto paper and canvas, the motifs and designs are a favourite with many designers, who use them on various handlooms. The art can now be seen done on many commercial items, like curtains, coffee mugs, handbags to name a few. Warli painting is now registered with a geographical indication under the intellectual property rights act, because of its value as cultural knowledge and tradition of India.

Words: Rhiti Chatterjee Bose
Images: Click the images to reach the source.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information used here has been researched from the internet and the writer is aware that there is more information which has been left out due to the restrictions regarding the length of the article.

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