Warli Painting

Warli Painting is the folk painting of Maharashtra. The name ‘Warli’ is inspired by the largest tribe found in the northern outskirts of Maharashtra’s capital Mumbai. It is dated back to the 10th century AD. Relevant facts about the Warli painting are important in relation to the art and culture syllabus of the IAS Exam.

In Aug 2020, the Press Information Bureau reported that a PSU – National Fertilizers Limited has decided to display Maharashtra’s Warli art on the outer walls of its Noida corporate office. Aspirants can stay updated with the latest PIB summaries from the linked article.

This article will provide you with information about the history of Warli Paintings, its salient features and significance, for UPSC 2021 preparation.

Evolution of Warli Paintings

About Warli Tribes:

The Warli Tribe is an indigenous tribe, found in Western India. Portions of mountainous as well as coastal regions of Maharashtra-Gujarat border are inhabited by the Warli/Varli tribes. A few points to be noted about this tribe are:

  1. Important Locations where the Warli tribesmen are found:
    • Maharashtra – Districts of Jawhar, Mokhada, Dahanu and Talasari talukas of the northern Palghar, parts of Nashik and Dhule.
    • Gujarat – Districts of Valsad, Dangs, Navsari and Surat.
    • Dadra, Nagara, and Daman and Diu Union Territory.
  2. The language spoken by Warli tribe:
    • Varli language is in an unwritten form which is used by Warli tribes. It is classified as Konkani language. (Note: Varli 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). Part of Indo-Aryan languages.
  3. Traditionally, they were a semi-nomadic tribe. They started with hunting. The tribe is usually led by one head. Presently, the tribe is found in agriculture and many of them grow crops like rice and wheat. They also sell toddy, mahua and fuelwood.
  4. They worship nature.
  5. Tarpa dance is associated with the Warli tribe. The Warli art paintings also depict Tarpa dance.
  6. Warli Revolt:
    1. It took place in 1945 in Maharashtra (Zari village of Talasari taluka.)
    2. The revolt was against the exploitation the tribes suffered at the hands of landlords.
    3. Many tribal women of Warli participated in the revolt.
    4. Godaveri Parulekar (Godutai) was the then Kisan Sabha leader, who supported the Warli women revolt.

Read about Scheduled Tribes and major tribes in India in the links mentioned below:

History of Warli Art

Warli art is often spelt as Varli art. Candidates should not get confused with different spellings. Warli/Varli or Warli paintings/Varli paintings are the same.

The term ‘Warli’ is derived from ‘Waral’ which means a small piece of tilled land. The Warli art is inspired by the tribes’ coexistence with nature and the forests. The exact origin of the Warli art paintings is debated but as it is considered to be one of the oldest paintings in India; it is reported to originate in 10t century AD or before.

The topic, ‘Warli Paintings’ is covered under UPSC Art and Culture in both Prelims and Mains GS 1.

To complement your art and culture preparation and study similar important topics, follow the links below:

  1. NCERT Art and Culture Notes for UPSC
  2. Art and Culture Questions from UPSC Mains GS 1
  3. How to study Indian Art and Culture
  4. Important Topics of Art and Culture in UPSC GS 1
  5. Best Books for UPSC Art and Culture

Salient Features of Warli Paintings/Warli Art

The main features of the Warli art paintings are:

  1. It originated in Maharashtra.
  2. The warli paintings are related with the daily events that are common to the tribes.
  3. Most Warli art themes revolve around people dancing in spirals, and in open-ended circles.
  4. Originally, the paintings were done on walls but gradually warli art was drawn on various other objects like:
    • Bamboo
    • Cloth
    • Mud pots
    • Dried bottle gourd
  5. Earlier only two colours were used in the Varli paintings:
    1. Earth brown
    2. White by rice paste; but with time, the background colours of the Warli art also include — Henna, Indigo, Ochre, Black, Earthy mud, Brick red.
  6. Initially, only Warli women called Savasini used to do the Varli paintings, however, gradually it was shifted to men folks too and they also began Warli painting.
  7. No mythological stories are depicted in the Warli Art of Warli paintings.
  8. Warli paintings can be categorized into four groups:
    • The Gods – The warli paintings related to this category revolve around the old folklores of the Warli tribe. Through this warli art, the tribesmen show their history that they believe in.
    • The People – Through these warli paintings, they depict good and bad deeds by the people.
    • The Animals – Many animals that were in their surroundings, are depicted in these Warli paintings. Tiger is the famous animal painting in Warli art.
    • Rights and Ritual – The most prominent of all the categories is the Warli paintings depicting rights and rituals. The joy, happiness, celebration, day to day activities are depicted under this category.
  9. One of the most famous paintings is ‘Chawk’ where married women paint on their kitchen walls with white color. A rectangular space with Goddess Palaghat (A fertility God) is painted in the center. Around the Goddess; trees, men performing daily activities, dancers, objects used by women for many activities, and animals are also painted.
  10. Basic Geometric Shapes used in the Warli wall paintings:
    • Triangles
    • Circles
    • Squares
    • Dots
    • Dashes

Read about other forms of Tribal Paintings in India in the linked article.

Significance of Warli Art

The different Warli art forms by the tribesmen depict the basic life they lived. It is often concluded seeing the Warli art that the tribes believed in the time cycle as is depicted in their spherical paintings. Through Warli art, it may also be concluded that Warli tribes believe in joy, dance and celebrations as is shown in the Warli dancer’s paintings.

It is stated the Warli women used to paint their walls during the marriage to reflect on happiness and celebrations. Warli wall paintings are considered to be auspicious.

The Warli Art is close to a natural life as is reflected in the designs of flora, fauna, and celebrations. The Varli art inspires to look back at prehistoric paintings as those were in a similar rhythm.

Over a period of time, the Warli art has become so famous that these are drawn on papers and sold across the country. Same warli art is drawn on cloth and paper.

Jivya Mashe was a Padma Shree Awardee (2011) who popularized the Warli tribal art form.

Modernization of Warli Art

With time, the objects depicted using warli paintings like trains, aeroplanes, rickshaws etc show the versatility of the Warli artists while keeping the traditional art form alive. Beyond mural paintings, Warli art is also depicted on cloth, paper, clay pots, and other objects.

Some topics related to tribes can be referred to for the UPSC preparation:

  1. Tribals and Issues of Land Rights
  2. Scheduled and Tribal Areas

UPSC Art & Culture Related Topics:

Classical Dances of India Folk Dances of India
Puppet Forms in India Folk Music in India
Difference Between Hindustani and Carnatic Music Theatre Forms in India

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