Warli painting is one of the most striking folk art forms of Maharashtra, traditionally created by tribal women. These paintings hail primarily from the tribe named Warli and also from Kokana, Dhodi, Malkhar koli, Kathodi tribes found in Thane district in the hinterland of Maharashtra. The word ‘Warli ‘comes from ‘warla’, a tribal word meaning ‘land’, as most of the population of the tribes are land tillers. In spite of being so close to Mumbai, these tribes are yet to experience the privileges of the modern amenities.
The most striking feature about the Warli Paintings and other such art forms is that unlike our urban individualized and atomized mindsets where any art belongs to copyrights, royalties and individual creators, these paintings belong to the community and represents the life and mind of the tribes.
Warli Paintings are two dimensional images with no influence of perspective in it. It has primacy of the linear representations with triangles dominating among the other shapes.
Patterns: This form of art strictly adheres to the specific geometric shapes each having a significance of its own:
Circle: Representing celestial objects like the sun and the moon
Triangle: Representing the pointed natural objects like the mountains and the trees
Square: Representing a sacred space or a piece of land, usually called the Chawk or the square.
Human figures are depicted through joining the apex of two triangles. These paintings follow the universal energy YIN/YANG – the male is represented by the upward facing triangle and the female by the downward facing one.
Devoid of Gods: Warli paintings hardly depict any god, deity or any mythological figure, although they have their own religious beliefs. Instead, this art form, sticking to the humane aspect of life and world, prefer to portray the sacred spaces for gods, social gatherings, important social events like marriage, birth, harvesting, sowing and daily life with animals.
Line Drawings: These paintings are line drawings covering a lot of space of the canvas or the wall.
Monochrome: Mostly these paintings are monochromatic. The background colors are of:
An austere mud base is used for the Warli paintings. Colors used to draw objects and figures are white, with occasional dots of yellow and red. White color is obtained by grinding rice to powder.
Warli paintings only came to the limelight as late as the seventies although the scholars’ reading approves the art of being into existence since the 10th century A.D. Research says that this art form might be a continuation of the tribal art which originated in the Neolithic period of 2500 B.C. to 3000 B.C.
There are four major themes which the art form revolves around. They are:
Lagna Cha Chawk: Lagna Cha Chaowk (chowk meaning a square) is a four-sided pattern usually drawn by the married women called ‘savasin’, and is meant for praying long life for their husbands. Mostly done during the marriage season, these paintings are usually painted on the walls of the kitchen, which is considered to be their most sacred place in the household. Palaghata, the mother goddess or the symbol of fertility and union, can be found inside this chowk or square. This design is also used during the wedding ceremony.
Tarpa Dance: This Tarpa Dance or ‘Tarpa Nrutya’ can be seen in the Warli paintings describing a tarpa (an instrument like trumpet) player surrounding a drummer and dancing men and women in some social gathering like wedding. This dance is depicted by showing a group of human figures in a circular or a semicircular arrangement representing the circle of life.
Tree of Life: Trees, being central to their lives, become a very important natural object to the Warli tribes. Paintings on this theme depict a huge tree, surrounding which we see numerous men and women dancing in rhythmic pattern.
Harvest: A sense of enrichment is achieved after these simple and hard working Warli tribes reap their cultivation. It is one of the most important phases of their society and this joy is depicted through paintings of dance surrounding images of harvest.
Warli painting is a language in itself. The images so drawn are connotative in nature, and provide the primordial tool of visual communication through its portrayals.
Concentric circular designs are used to symbolize the circle of life
The visual balance of the paintings is used in depicting the harmony and balance of the universe.
The soaring trees symbolize their sacred nature in protecting and sheltering man and animal.
A unique form of a significant repertoire in tribal vocabulary is built through the various little stories found in the paintings:
Meeting of the lovers, community dance for celebrating the advent of spring and harvest, budding trees. are some of the examples of this vocabulary.
The nature of movement of the objects within the painting gives the idea of the fact that nothing is static in the world – trees, human and animal figures respond to each other resolving their own problems.
According to the tribal beliefs, these paintings invoke the powers of the gods.
Warli paintings have been given recognition by the modern society and regular exhibition in reputed art halls. A number or initiatives have been taken to promote Warli paintings and the folk artists both nationally and internationally.
These paintings have become collector’s items and as a result the tradition of painting them on the walls has changed to paper, cloth and canvas. The content of the paintings have started incorporating the modern aspects of life, starting from spaceships to the computer.
Commercial success of these paintings without a doubt would mean betterment for the poor tribes of the region, but this philosophical and simple art form is getting dragged into the urban world of profit and business.