Warli painting

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Warli painting is a style of tribal art mostly created by the Adivasis from the North Sahyadri Range in India. This range encompasses cities such as Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar, Palghar, Mokhada, and Vikramgadh of Palghar district. This tribal art originated from Maharashtra, where it is still practiced today.

Warli paintings, at Sanskriti Kendra Museum, Anandagram, New Delhi.


The Warli tribe is one of the largest in India, located right outside of Mumbai. Despite being close to one of the largest cities in India, the Warli reject much of contemporary culture. The style of Warli painting was not discovered until the 1970's even though the tribal style of art is thought to date back as early as 10th century A.D. [1] The Warli culture is centered around the concept of Mother Nature and elements of nature are often focal points depicted in Warli painting. Farming is their main way of life and a large source of food for the tribe. They greatly respect nature and wildlife for the resources that it provides for life. [2] Warli used the clay huts as the backdrop to their paintings, similar to how ancient people used caves as their canvases.

The art of Warli painting[edit]

A tarpa player c. 1885

These rudimentary wall paintings use a set of basic geometric shapes: a circle, a triangle, and a square. These shapes are symbolic of different elements of nature. The circle and the triangle come from their observation of nature. The circle is representing the sun and the moon while the triangle is derived from mountains and pointed trees. In contrast, the square appears to be a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. The central motif in each ritual painting is the square, known as the "chalk" or "Shaukat", mostly of two types known as Devchauk and Lagnachauk. Inside a Devchauk is usually Palaghata, the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility.[3]

Male gods are unusual among the Warli and are frequently related to spirits, which have taken human shape. The central motif in the ritual painting is surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing, and farming as well as trees and animals. Festivals and dances are common scenes depicted in the ritual paintings. Human and animal bodies are represented by two inverse triangles joined at their tips. The upper triangle depicts the torso and the lower triangle the pelvis. Their precarious equilibrium symbolizes the balance of the universe. The representation also has the practical and amusing advantage of animating the bodies. Another main theme of Warli art is the denotation of a triangle that is larger at the top representing a "man" and a triangle which is wider at the bottom representing a "woman".[4] Apart from ritualistic paintings, other Warli paintings covered day-to-day activities of the village people.

One of the central aspects of many Warli paintings is the "Tarpa Dance"—the Tarpa, a trumpet-like instrument, is played in turns by different village men. Men and women entwine their hands and move in a circle around the Tarpa player. The dancers then follow him, turning and moving as he turns, never turning their back to the Tarpa. The musician plays two different notes, which direct the head dancer to either move clockwise or counterclockwise. The Tarpa player assumes a role similar to that of a snake charmer, and the dancers become the figurative snake. The dancers take a long turn in the audience and try to encircle them for entertainment. The circle formation of the dancers is also said to resemble the circle of life.

Warli painting from Thane district

Warli painting materials[edit]

The pared down pictorial language of Warli painting is matched by a rudimentary technique. The ritual paintings are usually done inside the huts of the village. The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth, and cow dung that make a red ochre background for the wall paintings. The Warli only use white to create their paintings. White pigment is made from a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binder. They use a bamboo stick chewed at the end to give it the texture of a paintbrush. Walls are painted only for special occasions such as weddings or harvests.

In contemporary culture[edit]

The lack of regular artistic activity explains the traditional tribal sense of style for their paintings. In the 1970s, this ritual art took a radical turn when Jivya Soma Mashe and his son Balu Mashe started to paint. They painted not for ritual purposes, but because of their artistic pursuits. Jivya is known as the modern father of Warli painting. Since the 1970s, Warli painting has moved off of the walls and onto paper and canvas. [5]

Coca-Cola India launched a campaign featuring Warli painting in order to highlight the ancient culture and represent a sense of togetherness. The campaign was called "Come Home on Deepawali" and specifically targeted the youth of today.[6] The youth want to acknowledge and honor their traditional culture while also embracing the opportunities of the present. The campaign included advertising on traditional mass media combined with radio, the Internet, and out-of-home media. Social media provided to be a useful platform to help Coca-cola reach their target of youth and to bring the ancient art into the 21st century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Tales of the folk from the west - Warli painting | OpenArt". OpenArt. 2016-09-28. Retrieved 2017-03-30. 
  2. ^ "Warli Tribe Lifestyle, Warli Paintings, Warli Culture". FlipTalks - Lifestyle Portal. 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2017-03-30. 
  3. ^ Tribhuwan, Robin D.; Finkenauer, Maike (2003). Threads Together: A Comparative Study of Tribal and Pre-historic Rock Paintings. Delhi: Discovery Publishing House. ISBN 81-7141-644-6. 
  4. ^ "A Complete Warli painting Tutorial Guide". The Crafty Angels. 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2016-01-21. 
  5. ^ "Telling stories and drawing life – Indian Warli Community projects at the V&A Museum of Childhood". Blog. Retrieved 2017-03-30. 
  6. ^ "Coca-Cola India celebrates ancient Warli folk art form - Launches | Business Standard News". Business-standard.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21. 

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