Wonderful Warli!

As we all know it, India has a very rich tradition of folk art and culture – the custodians of which are the tribes who continue to live in the interiors of various states of our country. Among the many types of folk art and cultures that still exist, Warli is one of the oldest forms, dating back to early 70s (originally the 10th century A.D. but gained actual recognition in the 70s). Its origin traces back into the Warli region of Maharashtra. The Warli tribes are usually found on the Northern outskirts of Mumbai, located in Western India. Basically, the Warli form of folk art uses geometric shapes such as circles, triangles, squares, hexagons, rectangles, and various others to further form different shapes that depict life and beliefs of the Warli tribe.

Back in the day, the tribal people would express themselves in their own vivid style through this art form on the walls of their houses. These unique designs would usually be painted their clay hut walls (very similar to how the ancient cavemen used their cave walls as their canvas!). To draw and paint shapes and figures, they used a white pigment – a mixture of rice, gum, and water (the gum acts as the binder). A bamboo stick is used as a paintbrush (its ends are chewed to give it the exact desired texture). Mainly done by the womenfolk of the tribe, these paintings were the only way of transmitting folklore to a populace that was not familiar with the written words.

Among the many painting themes in this art form, one of the most popular themes is the spiral chain of humans around one central motif. This painting depicts the most important belief of the Warli tribe, which is – ‘life is an eternal journey, and it has no beginning and no end.’ One more major aspect of this folk art is that it does not depict mythological beliefs, deities, characters, or even images. It just depicts social life – their unique wedding rituals, their festivals, human beings and animals, scenes from everyday life such as dancing, hunting, sowing, harvesting, or just going about with a daily routine. In short, it is centred on the beautiful concept of Mother Nature, and the many other elements of nature as a whole. Another central aspect is the famous Tarpa dance. The Tarpa is a trumpet-like musical instrument, which is played by the Warli tribe men. The entire tribe dances to the tunes of this instrument by entwining their hands and moving in a circular motion around the person who is playing the Tarpa.

The paintings hold cultural and intellectual value and are considered traditional knowledge to be preserved for generations! The Warli paintings are simple, yet have such beautifully-delicate patterns, that one can’t ignore its raw appeal. Even today, the Warli tribe exists but still maintains their indigenous customs and traditions. The slowly, yet steadily growing popularity and most importantly, the commercialisation of these stunning paintings has uplifted this one-of-a-kind tribe.   


- Zainab