The tradition of Warli painting -

Everyone is familiar with the paintings of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh. The bold lines used to make the paintings are successful in depicting movement as well. There is a stylistic similarity with the paintings found in the pre-historic caves to the paintings done by the tribes of Warli, Chittara and Saora. Hence, these are considered as successors and descendants of the original inhabitants of the Bhimbetka caves.

Traditional Warli art is not done just for the sake of it. Warli paintings are a part of the community, a part of their social lives, and a part of their very being. It is associated with numerous customs, festivals, and important milestones of their lives. It is done on the mud walls of the house by Suvasini’s, or the married women. The paintings describe their relation with the mother nature.

Unlike other folk painting traditions, the Warli paintings do not use any primary colour. Nor do they narrate any mythological or regional folk story. There is no religious iconography, and it represents nature as the ultimate reality, and depicts the interdependence between humans and nature.

The Warli paintings have an overall outlook. It is two dimensional with no sense of perspective or proportion. Since there is a lack of written script for the tribe, these paintings become an alternative mode to express their feelings.

According to Yashodhara Dalmia, “when Warli art was first discovered in the early 1970s, it created a huge sensation in many aspects because these paintings were very unique to that of other folk paintings in India.” Warli as we know it today was introduced due to the efforts of late Bhaskar Kulkarni. He encouraged the Warli artists to paint their art on paper instead of the mud walls of their huts. The monotony of Warli being a married women-wall art tradition was broken by Jivya Soma Mashe. He experimented with the non-ritual paintings and created new images depicted everyday life.

The technique of Warli is uniquely simple. The mud surface of the house is cleaned and coated with cow-dung; post which it is coated with geru. The figures are then painted on it using white obtained by rice paste.

Warli on Mud Walls of HousesWarli on Mud Walls of Houses


Characteristics of Warli:

  • Bodies of humans and animals are depicted by two triangles touching each other at their tips.
  • Female figures are differentiated by men from their head buns.
  • Basic geometric shapes are used to depict symbols of life and the world around them. Circle represents the sun and the moon, triangle represents the mountains and pointed trees, and square represents the sacred enclosure or a piece of land.

Themes of Warli:

The themes symbolise the nature-cultural relationship, social relationship, material culture, religious symbols, dance forms, marriage practises, family life, hunting games, deities, etc.

Types of Warli painting:

There are two types of Warli painting – ritualistic and non-ritualistic. The ritualistic paintings are the ones which connect the past, present and the future. These paintings are sacred and ritualistic, for example Lagna Chowk, Dev Chowk, Kanna, etc. The non-ritualistic paintings are not associated with any ritual before, during or after the painting. These are done for decorative purposes, the example of this is hunting scenes, agricultural activities, festival scenes like holi, etc.

Concept of symbolism in Warli:

There are various prominent characteristics of symbols used in Warli. These symbols act as a substitute for behaviour. These symbols are used to imply a meaning that cannot be derived directly. Symbolism signifies a condensation of energy.

The figures of human beings, animals, birds, leaves, etc are triangular in shape. The triangular structures are symbols of female sex organs associated with productivity and fertility. A triangle is also the simplest form after the point and the circle.   It also represents fire, the first element to have form.

Horses of BhimbetkaHorses of Bhimbetka


Horses of WarliHorses of Warli

Warli paintings have been recognized by the government and nongovernmental organisations; national and international, through various awards. Although with this recognition comes a threat to its authenticity.

 ~ Written by Misha Jaswal

Further Reads:

  • The Painted World of the Warlis: Art and Ritual of the Warli Tribes of Maharashtra
  • Indian Folk and Tribal Painting by Charu Smita Gupta
  • Warli Art: Diversificaftion of Traditional Painting Creatingv Future, Hope and Happiness by Kavita Paul.




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