Warli - the folklore on the walls

India has millions of practising artists who form a huge and important resource of traditional knowledge and indigenous technologies. This month, our blog is dedicated to the creativity of the anonymous Warli artists of our land.

Adivasis and their tribal paintings

India has the largest concentration of tribes after Africa. Called as Ädivasis, each and every tribe is known for its outstanding cultural traits.  Tribes such as Bhils, Gonds, Murias, Sauras, Warlis and Rathwas are known for their paintings.
The simplest art in any tribal society is that of a wall painting, which was not just as an expression of creativity but it is in itself a ritual. This art was in practice since centuries, and would be re-created every year on various auspicious occasions or festivals like marriage, birth or harvest. The hallmark of tribal paintings was their simplicity.

History of Warli paintings

The word ‘Warli’ is derived from Warla, meaning “piece of land" or “field". The Warli tribes belonged to the northern outskirts of Mumbai and extended all the way up to the Gujarat border. They inhabited thatched mud-huts, and the art form was primarily done on the walls of their homes with rice paste.

The art is traced back to as early as the tenth century, and traditionally it was women who painted these wonderful paintings. The tribes were predominantly farmers whose life is governed by the monsoon cycle. The main theme in their painting was nature worship. The paintings conveyed and transmitted folklore to the general population who were not well versed in written communication.

Here’s a painting which adorns the wall of a Warli house. The centre square depicts a  Devchauk and the adjoining squares are called as lagnachauk, symbolising temples. Inside a Devchauk, we find Palaghata, the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility.

Warli paintings – Simple themes portraying everyday life

Warli paintings are narrative paintings, and the themes portray the social lifestyle and day today activities like hunting, fishing, farming, forest activities and village life. Since the tribes are predominantly farmers, they worship nature according to seasonal cycles, in the form of Sun and the moon, the god of thunder, lightning, wind, rain and several others.

 

The word ‘Warli’ is derived from Warla, meaning “piece of land" or “field". Warli paintings are narrative paintings, and the themes portray the social lifestyle and day-to-day activities like hunting, fishing, farming, forest activities, and village life.

The Warli painting technique

Observe the Warli paintings closely, and you can see the stick-like figures in movement always. The figures have performance gestures more than any facial expression. The paintings depict humans and animals engaged in harvest, cultivating the land, hunting, or dancing amidst a festive atmosphere.

The stick-like human figures are made up of two inverted triangles, along with a variety of flora and fauna in geometrical shapes. The art form does not provide formal training to the artists but is passed down from generation to generation. Warli paintings are always done on white colour. The pictorial language has a rudimentary technique, with the white pigment derived from a mixture of rice paste, water and gum for binding. A bamboo stick acts as a brush to paint their walls made out of red ochre.

In Warli paintings, the pictorial space is divided diagonally, horizontally, or vertically. The landscapes are demarcated well within an enclosure, and all the characters have equal visibility within their individual spaces. One characteristic Wari theme is the spiral formations of men and women depicted in a concentric circular design. These are symbolic of their Tarpa dance, in which life is represented by unending circles, without a beginning or end. You can see these circles depicted in paintings done for all occasions – birth, marriage or death!

In Warli paintings, the pictorial space is divided diagonally, horizontally, or vertically. The landscapes are demarcated well within an enclosure, and all the characters have equal visibility within their individual spaces.

An ode to Warli

The Warli Paintings of Maharashtra are very different from other tribal and folk paintings in India but similar in many ways with the African Zulu Paintings. Their themes revolve around depiction of daily life activities rather than mythological themes. Unlike Madhubani paintings that use bright colours, these are painted on mud and cow dung based surface using earth colours or rice paste in white.

This art form is very popular with fashion designers and home décor brands. From the walls of huts, it has transcended to our clothing as well. This is a step to instil artistic consciousness in the minds of the people and also a way to understand the various folk and tribal forms of India.

 

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