In continuation of our series of Indian traditional handicrafts art forms, we are back with yet another art form, and this time, its Warli chitrakala or Warli art.
What exactly is Warli?
Warli is traditionally a tribal art form that was created by the people from the tribal communities of the North Sahyadri range, which lies mostly in the present state of Maharashtra. Towns and rural areas like Palghar, Dahanu, Vikramgad, and Mokhada are all places that are still home to tribal artists practicing this art form and this is where you will be able to see not only authentic Warli folk art being produced but also how it is done.
Located not very far from the bustling city of Mumbai, there are towns and villages, where the Warli people still live – Warli is one of the largest tribes of India and even though they are so close to one of the biggest metropolitans of the world, they are still choosing to stay connected with their roots and away from the commercialization and the contemporary cultural changes. It was not till the 1970s that this art form was even recognized as one because till then, it was considered nothing more than Warli tribal art, an art form that was restricted to the tribal people of the Warli village areas, even though it is supposed to have originated in the 10th century AD. Jivya Soma Mashe, an artist from the Thane district of Maharashtra is considered one of the greatest exponents of the art form and was even awarded the Padmashree in 2011. He passed away in 2018, leaving a legacy behind him of promoting the art form.
What can be categorized as Warli art?
The term Warli comes from the Marathi term Waral, which means a small piece of land that has been tilled, and given that the tribal people who are known to be the first propagators of this art form were villagers, it comes as no surprise. Because farming was the main occupation of the people, those were generally the main themes of all the paintings. You could see elements of nature, wildlife, and the general life in the villages in the paintings. For most artists, Warli painting designs on wall were the way to go, because the walls of their homes were the easiest canvases for them. This is why most paintings even today will have either plain white or a terracotta colour as the background, because those would be the colours of the walls of the huts and homes in the villages.
How is Warli art done?
What is interesting and unique about traditional Warli art is that it is inherently simple – with a basic set of geometric shapes, namely, circles, triangles and squares, entire scenarios are created. Each of these symbols are meant to denote different elements of nature and the world around us; so, while the circle represents the sun and the moon, the triangles are meant to show the mountains and conical trees. The squares are used to depict objects that have been created by human hands, such as piece of land or sacred enclosure. People would be drawn using two triangles – the top triangle will be inverted showing the torso and the lower triangle showing the pelvis. If the top triangle is larger, it was meant to show a man and if the lower triangle is larger it is meant to show a woman. In certain styles, the head will have a smaller circle, depicting a hair bun and indicating that this is a woman.
The paintings could be religious, related to some festival or festivities such as weddings, or could be used to depict the daily life in the village. If the painting is related to certain rituals, there would generally be a square in the middle – known as the chauk, these could be categorized as devchauk (related to God) or lagnachauk (related to the wedding). While male gods are rare in these paintings, female goddesses are meant to signify fraternity, fertility, and general wellbeing. The most commonly seen Warli painting designs would show scenes of farming, fishing, hunting, or villagers dancing.
What are the materials used to create Warli paintings?
The Warli tribe used this art form as a simple pictorial language, which is why the techniques and materials used are also very simple. The paintings were generally created on the interior walls of the houses, but in some cases, they would be done on the outside walls too, especially if the roof was slightly elongated. The simplistic wall art painting would be created on a wall that would have been made using a mixture of red brick, soil, and tree branches, giving a terracotta-colored background for the paintings. White paint would be created using rice flour, water, and gum. A bamboo stick would be chewed off to create the bristles of a brush and with these ingredients, stories would be brought to life on the walls.
What are the different types of Warli paintings?
Just because Warli paintings are simple, it doesn’t mean that there are no types or categories within – there are actually several types of Warli paintings, and here are the main types:
- Marriage Warli – Only married women are allowed to paint the lagnachauk or the marriage square in the wedding Warli art and this process is one of the most important aspects of the four-to-five-day long marriage ritual. The squares are meant to protect the bride and groom from evil spirits and ensure fertility. The chauk is also meant to symbolise Palghat Devi, who is the goddess of fertility, and invoking her presence is important for a wedding.
- Dancing Warli – Perhaps the most famous is the dancing Warli painting, also known as the Tarpa dance painting. This is a famous folk dance of the Warli people and is performed in the night by both men and women. The tarpa is an instrument and the person playing it stands in the center. The typical painting will show the dancers forming almost a circle of people and the dancers will move in an anti-clockwise direction.
- Kanna – This is the only version that is drawn on the floor and yet again, it is drawn only by the women, because it’s a symbol of virginity and is drawn on the third day of the wedding at the house of the bride. The holes in which seeds are pounded is the centerpiece of the Kanna and different colors procedure from natural ingredients like rice, haldi, and kumkum are used to paint the patterns.
- Muthi – Muthi or the fist is used to imprint on the walls of the houses on the day when the new rice is brought from the field for the very first time. The same imprint can also be seen on granaries, walls of the kitchens, and even on the ploughs, because they are supposed to symbolize an abundance of food.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions related to Warli:How can you identify a Warli painting?
The easiest way to identify Warli folk painting is by the main use of geometric figures like circles, triangles, and squares.
How are Warli and math related?
The most basic shapes in Math are circles, triangles, and squares and these are the building blocks of all Warli art. These figures represent various elements of nature. This is also what makes Warli art painting easy and truly simple.
What are the types of Warli art?
The main types of Warli arts include wedding art, dance or tarpa art, muthi, and kanna.
Why triangles are used in Warli painting?
The triangles are most commonly used to depict men and women – an inverted triangle shows the torso and the straight triangle shows the pelvis. The Warli art designs will have a circle on the top triangle to show the head and two circles depict women with their hair tied in a bun.
Is Warli GI tagged?
With the help of a tribal non-governmental organization named Adivasi Yuva Seva Sangh, Warli was able to be registered with a geographical indication as per the Intellectual Property Rights Act.
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