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The Warlis or Varlis are an indigenous tribe or Adivasis, living in mountainous as well as coastal areas of Maharashtra-Gujarat border and surrounding areas. They have their own animistic beliefs, life, customs and traditions, as a result of acculturation they have adopted many Hindu beliefs. The Warlis speak an unwritten Varli language which belong to the southern zone of the Indo-Aryan languages.[1] and the union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.[2]


The Warli speak in Varli language, classified as Konkani, with some degree of influence from Gujarati.

Warli language is classified under Marathi by Grierson (Grierson's Linguistic Survey of India) as well as A.M. Ghatage (Warli of Thana, vol.VII of A Survey of Marathi dialects)

Warli painting[edit]

Main article: Warli painting
Warli paintings, at Sanskriti Kendra Museum, Anandagram, New Delhi.

In the book The Painted World of the Warlis Yashodhara Dalmia claimed that the Warlis carry on a tradition stretching back to 2500 or 3000 BCE. Their mural paintings are similar to those done between 500 and 10,000 BCE in the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, in Madhya Pradesh.

Everything about Warli is earthy and soothing. It takes you back to the painting’s provenance where you could almost smell the wet soil, feel the touch of the calloused hand that painted the background and admire meticulous brush stroke of the rural artist who created the master piece. Warli paintings succeed in adding elegance to a rural hut or a five star hotel lobby with the same charm.

No wonder, designers were so enthralled by this art form, that they decided to create an entire line of dresses based on Warli paintings. Designers have used very traditional patterns, rich and folksy colours to recreate the magic of Warli paintings in her dresses.

Their extremely rudimentary wall paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square.Their paintings were monosyllabic. The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature, the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived from mountains and pointed trees. Only the square seems to obey a different logic and seems to be a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. So the central motive in each ritual painting is the square, known as the "chauk" or "chaukat", mostly of two types: Devchauk and Lagnachauk. Inside a Devchauk, we find Palaghata, the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility.[3] Significantly, male gods are unusual among the Warli and are frequently related to spirits which have taken human shape. The central motive in these ritual paintings is surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing and farming, festivals and dances, trees and animals. Human and animal bodies are represented by two triangles joined at the tip; the upper triangle depicts the trunk and the lower triangle the pelvis. Their precarious equilibrium symbolizes the balance of the universe, and of the couple, and has the practical and amusing advantage of animating the bodies.

The pared down pictorial language is matched by a rudimentary technique. The ritual paintings are usually done inside the huts. The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth and cow dung, making a Red Ochre background for the wall paintings. The Warli use only white for their paintings. Their white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binding. They use a bamboo stick chewed at the end to make it as supple as a paintbrush. The wall paintings are done only for special occasions such as weddings or harvests. The lack of regular artistic activity explains the very crude style of their paintings, which were the preserve of the womenfolk until the late 1970s. But in the 1970s this ritual art took a radical turn, when Jivya Soma Mashe and his son Balu Mashe started to paint, not for any special ritual, but because of his artistic pursuits. Warli painting also featured in Coca-Cola's 'Come home on Diwali' ad campaign in 2010 was a tribute to the spirit of India’s youth and a recognition of the distinct lifestyle of the Warli tribe of Western India.[4]

Tribal Cultural Intellectual Property[edit]

Warli Art is cultural intellectual property of the tribal community. Today, there is an urgent need for preserving this traditional knowledge in tribal communities across the globe. Understanding the need for intellectual property rights, tribal non-profit Organisation "Adivasi Yuva Seva Sangh" initiated efforts to start a registration process in 2011. Now, Warli Painting is registered with a Geographical Indication under the intellectual property rights act. With the use of technology & the concept of social entrepreneurship, Tribals established the Warli Art Foundation, a non-profit company dedicated to Warli art and related activities.


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dalmia, Yashodhara, (1988). Painted World of the Warlis: Art and Ritual of the Warli Tribes of Maharashtra, New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi.
  • Dandekar, Ajay (ed.) (1998). Mythos and Logos of the Warlis: A Tribal Worldview, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, ISBN 81-7022-692-9.