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This is what Warli folk paintings look like

February 29, 2008
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I wonder if you have heard of a painting style called Warli. These are folk paintings of the Warli tribe, a tribe from north west of Mumbai.

Warli Art was first discovered in the early seventies. While there are no records of the exact origins of this art, its roots may be traced to as early as the 10th century AD. Warli is the vivid expression of daily and social events of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, used by them to embellish the walls of village houses. These usually depict scenes of human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting….It is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods.

What I found intriguing about them was that they are painted using a mud base and using one color – white, with perhaps dots of red and yellow. And even this white colour is of natural origin, made from ground rice. Traditionally, these paintings do not use straight lines and instead the lines are made by using dots and dashes. At one time this was a woman’s activity, now these paintings are also done by men and are sold commercially.  The modern version of these paintings are done on paper. Murals of these paintings on walls look stunning and Warli painters readily come to your home to decorate your house for a fee.

Here are some pictures of the paintings we have in our home.
This first one is of the Tarpa dance:

warli painting red

This one is of the social life in the village:

If you notice these paintings use a circle, a triangle and a square. The circle represents the sun and the moon, the triangle mountains and trees. The square seems to represent a “sacred enclosure” or a piece of land. 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.”

Various items like trays, pen stands and coasters decorated with this style of painting are available:

Simple Art but unique.

(All these photographs have watermarks on them.  You will find photos without watermarks on  this post: Warli Paintings Photographs. The photos there are not only without watermarks but also high resolution pictures. They are available for free download, as long as you follow the  requirements for Attribution .

Related post: Tarpa Dance of the Warli Tribes

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 29, 2008 8:38 am

    Nita,

    //At one time this was a woman’s activity, now these paintings are also done by men and are sold commercially.//

    You have made a very important point but seem to have entirely missed its significance. This is what inevitably happens the moment anything in India becomes market-oriented — the men take over, marginalsing the women.

    Also, what was originally a spontaneously evolved form of decoration with deep cultural moorings, becomes something for the fashionable crowd to show off at their salons discuss over cocktails, like T S Eliot’s “women [who] come and go, talking of Michelangelo.”

    Your last three visuals are very representative of the kind of vulgarisation that must inevitably follow commercialisation.

  2. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 29, 2008 8:50 am

    A couple of further points:

    //Warli Art was first discovered in the early seventies.//

    Please put quotation marks around “discovered”. It refers to the Sunday papers and the kind of people whose worldviews are determined by them. People like me, who discover things on their own steam by travelling around the boondocks and backwaters and cohorting with the unwashed classes, know about such things from whatever date they serendipitously stumble upon them.

    And a purely pedantic point: “north-west of Mumbai” would perhaps posit the Warlis in a zone of conflict with ONGC! :-)

  3. February 29, 2008 10:01 am

    Vivek, the point you made about men taking over work as soon as there is monetary value involved, is best said by a man! :)

    And if the paintings are used to talk about at cocktail parties…your criticism according to me is a dig at cocktail parties… which are the epitome of pretentiousness on just about everything. I too share your scorn for any kind of pretentiousness, which is far too common amongst people who think they are the ‘cream’ of society, whether academically or monetarily.

    But as for commericialisation of the paintings, I think it’s a good thing. I am sure you won’t be surprised to know that I spent a considerable amount of time chatting with the painter, who was selling these various items. He was neither a male chauvinist, nor a person who was the type to be dragging his culture into the mud. He was a poor tribal and he was telling us how difficult it is for them to survive because of the lack of education and the lack of skills that are needed in today’s society. He was immensely grateful that he could use their cultural painting style to make some money. In fact when he told me the little money he makes, I felt quite mortified, and bought everything that was available, including key chains, without a thought. I tried to give him advise how to use his skills to the maximum and not get cheated by middlemen, but I could see that it was hopeless. He was a simple man.

    About your point about ‘discovery’ , yes it means when city folk discovered the art, the commercial ugly world as you would see it.

    Yes, your point about north west of mumbai is a valid one, the term is a vague one, as it refers to daman and surrounding areas…
    today for some reason my eyes are watering, I think due to being for too long on the pc and that’s odd considering I am not part of any social networking site and check my email either once a day or once in 2 days. :)

  4. February 29, 2008 10:22 am

    It is true that, in India we have lot of skillfull artist who are masters in their work, but unable to make money from it. hardly they get money for daily bread and butter.
    We have lot of talent in country but we dont have easily accessible stage.
    And about Middlemen: in our country these people get more profit than creator/ producer and end user.

    True, it is the middlemen who exploit the poor artists from the country. But as artists often lack marketing skills, there seems to be little they can do, unless they get together and form some sort of cooperative like Raj suggested. – Nita.

  5. February 29, 2008 10:51 am

    Nita,

    The paintings are very beautiful and so are the pictures.Thanks for enlightening me about the rich and varied heritage of our country.It is a shame that such things are slowly but surely being put to the sword due to different reasons :-x

    I am always fascinated by tribal culture.I know that everything they do has a deep meaning and it usually denotes oneness with nature.The Warli paintings are no different.Thanks for explaining the significance of the shapes used by them.I am not surprised at all that they represent the forces of Mother Nature.

    Nita,Vivek,

    I too share your scorn for the attitude of those who think that they are the “cream” of society :-x

    I agree with Nita when she says that commercialisation of the paintings is not necessarily a bad thing.Ofcourse,the paintings may be considered sacred by them and maybe they were never meant to be sold to others.But as we know,there is a serious assault on the tribal way of life by different forces.Their land,which they regard as sacred,is being grabbed by greedy people and they are driven out by force without being provided with adequate compensation or alternate training.Those who protest are mercilessly shot dead as was the case in Kalinganagar 8-O

    What can the poor tribals do in such circumstances?They are forced to ‘commercialise’ what they have,even if it was not meant to be turned into a ‘product’.And as Nita said,they are even cheated by middlemen in the process :-(

    I think :idea: they should form societies among themselves to ‘advertise’ and ‘market’ their ‘products’.They might as well go the whole way at ‘commercialising’ their art rather than take half-hearted steps which would only result in them getting a raw deal :-|

    Thanks Raj. :) well, I think yours is a good idea and it reminds me what the farmers in Anand did. They got together to form cooperatives and therefore managed to get better renumeration for themselves. – Nita.

  6. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 29, 2008 10:56 am

    Nita,

    My main point is that NW would place them out at sea; and the Warlis are not a maritime group. It should actually be NE-NNE. Dead north is the areas along the railway line, largely taken over in the last 150 years by economically powerful non-tribals (my maternal family is one of the culprits). Almost the only Warlis you’ll find there are the ones driven out of their homelands in the hills into exploitative menial labour, or low-in-the-hierarchy suppliers of minor forest produce (and hooch — more in Gujarat than in Maharashtra).

    //Yes, your point about north west of mumbai is a valid one, the term is a vague one, as it refers to daman and surrounding areas…//

    While “Daman and its surrounding areas” is not wrong, the real concentrations of Warlis are further south in Thane District — in Talasari, Dahanu and Palghar talukas, in what is known as the “dongar-patti” (hill tracts). South of the Surya River their population is less prominent.

  7. February 29, 2008 12:48 pm

    I heard about warli paintings when I bought a TShirt made by a company called Tantra, they had the same painting as you have put in the first picture on the shirt, infact the color was also the same one :)

    T-shirt huh! After you read the comments on this post you might feel guilty owning that shirt! :) – Nita.

  8. Guqin permalink
    February 29, 2008 1:10 pm

    Dear Nita, good job! Yet another significant topic for Indian or non-Indian to learn about. Here is my observation as I happen to be an artist by profession:

    1. True arts ALWAYS come from the country, just like trees always grown in nature. So called developed (civilized) arts and royal court arts are just to cut down the trees to build houses (city arts) and palaces (court arts) in the urban area… When one traces the origin of any art, it is very difficult to find counter-examples to this rule (Challenges to this view are welcome). Music and poetry begin with the oldest folk songs. Folk songs first, Tagore and Mozart much later. First complilation of poetry was done in China (Shi Jing), it was a collection of folk songs. Michaelangelo is not comparable to Greek sculptors who are folk artisans, and are considered laborers in their time. Need not mention India’s vast artistic tradition in music, dance etc. Same with the Egyptians.

    2. Commerce kills folk arts (ie. the true art), though may encourage city arts, but then city arts will gradually loose their lives and evolve into formalism. It is like one can not hold a truthful smile for long if at all if it is intended for a good tip. One can observe, formalism never exists in folk arts. Just like gardens are always men made, they never just form themselves in nature in order to attract admirers.

    3. All folk arts are somewhat similar in a deeper sense, since they represent something universal (that is, something first) in humanity before civilization or philosophy and ethics. We here can see that Warli paintings share similarities in fundamental easthetical principles which can be found in almost all first art traditions (African, for example). Hence one can observe even people doing bad things still have very beautiful first arts back home. The British conquerers still had very beautiful folk songs like “The Green Sleeve”. It had been only the laterly developed British culture turning them away from their original inner soulfulness.

    4. Regarding Vivek’s comment: The truth is that the city men corrupt the country men, and the country men corrupt the country arts. Why are men the medium of corruption? Because men hold power! And power corrupts art in the first place, let alone power charmed by money.

    5. When the state or people consciously attempt to “protect” folk arts, they slow die. This is because true arts come out from the sub-consciousness, the artworks are just like the waves on the surface of sea water. Protecting it is as drawing the sea water into a man-made pool, the waves vanish after the initial momentum is used up. Saddly, this is the trend of modern culture world wide as a result of global westernization. I call this “museum mentality”. When all of nature and all artists are conquered by the “protection” of the museums, true arts die. England is a good example as the most museum minded nation in the world, but infamous for her artistic mediocrity (Perhaps save literature, but in my judgement, very unhealthy literature too, but most western leterature is like this, to be fair), as well, doing great damages in many art traditions by un-planting the artworks from their mother soils in order to put them in the British museums. The US is another example for good museums but bad arts and fake artists. Basically, near all of “the English speaking world” show mediocrity or even vulgarity in the arts though it may show superiority in scientific/technological achievements. By the way, this is a very serious phenonmenon for China and India’s governments to consider when they move their nations towards the English speaking culture, which seems like a more specific and modern form of western culture. Artistic failure is usually much more than just art failure but symbolic to more fundamental and universal issues.

    6. Better to leave the folk arts and artists alone in principle, but in today’s world their communities are put within our western/westernized cultural settings which are overwhelmingly more powerful than theirs (Like a girl meets a bandit, why do you say?), so slowly, they will be used up and poisoned too. (Already happening in my homeland, from paper-cutting to music). Either way, humanity looses. If someday, all artists in this world are either ugly or fake (like Picasso or Warhol), it is the punishment to humanity for its material greed and spiritual dishonesty.

    By the way, I wonder what life is like for “professional” artists in India? I saw several artbooks from India by supposedly famous artists. I found them puzzlingly if not shamelessly awful! Yet, I later came across with a few original pieces by folk artists (supposedly with family traditions) brough back by tourists, and I found them hauntingly (yes, hauntingly) beautiful. Perhaps the true artists are still living in the depth of India’s old society but on the surface of the new cities?

    Gugin, I had no idea that you were an artist by profession although I knew from your comments that you have the soul of one! Thanks for your indepth understanding of the torment that artists go through…about folk artistry in India, there is plenty of it. Most of India is rural and country and traditions are surviving and we are a huge nation so you can imagine the richness that exists here. Slowly with urbanisation, things will happen like you predicted…Art with become artificial. I don’t see a way out. There is modern art though but even as I write that I know you will not think highly of modern art. but modern art is natural, not artificial. It shows the pain of the city dwellers, the burden of lonliness that they carry and well, that is not artificial – Nita.

  9. February 29, 2008 1:48 pm

    Nita – what a treat to learn about Warli paintings. The Mandala on the red earth background is quite amazing. The wiggly legs on the dancers of the outer circle indicate that ring of dancers is moving counter-clockwise, while the dancers in the inner circle are moving in place – this is beautiful work! The white on black painting is also gorgeous – it is amazing to see the figures engaged in different activities, and it is obvious to me that the person who painted this has a wonderful design and drawing skill. It is unfortunate that the function this art is intended for is bastardized by commercial considerations – cultural narratives do not belong on pencil-holders, key chains or mugs. Here in North America cultural appropriation of fine Native imagery is everywhere – Kokopelli figures on t-shirts, ersatz Navajo ceremonial sand-paintings on jewelry boxes, Thunderbird key-chains etc. Images with cultural meaning are thus reduced to meaningless decorations and treated as disposable, or of a moment. That is a true loss of cultural integrity to reduce the image-making of a people from ceremonial value. How long is it before the Warli tribals sink into vulgarizations of their cultural capital? G

    Suburban, thank you. Glad to know an artist’s view!
    I know you are a painter and artist, and therefore I am not surprised by your response to the commercialisation. However when I made this post, I admit I didn’t think of it that way, I mean what happens to art when it is commercialised. I just see these things as inevitable result of ‘civilisation’. – Nita.

  10. February 29, 2008 10:43 pm

    love your blog. have been to India (Tamil Nadu) three times….it’s my second home in my heart.

    shanti.

    Hi Linda. It’s always wonderful to meet with those who love India. Thank you. – Nita.

  11. March 2, 2008 2:06 am

    beauty in simplicity

    Thanks. :) – Nita.

  12. March 2, 2008 2:22 am

    Nita,

    I liked your explanation of how the different geometrical shapes are used. It would be a good way to teach beginners how to make their ideas come to life on the page.

    Like Suburban, my favorite is the Tarpa dance on the coral background.

    I was thrilled to learn about the Warli art and culture. A similar development has occurred in Mexico, where many indigenous people live from the sale of their folkart. Each tribe has a different art, and a unique story to tell. I liked this post very much!

    Thanks Christine. Yes, you are right about the shapes being a method of teaching art…but ofcourse the explanation isn’t my original one. It’s been interpreted by experts. That red background is red mud paste and do you know what they use for dark green? Cow dung. Nowadays they mix their colours with chemicals though. – Nita.

  13. April 21, 2008 7:00 pm

    I got an email from a person who works closely with the Warlis and she didn’t want to comment here directly. However she has no objection if I copy her feedback on this subject here:

    I would just like to clarify – the Warlis live in the contiguous belt from North West Maharashtra to South Gujarat. This includes areas in Thane District such as Dahanu, Jawahar, Mokhada as well as parts of South Gujarat. The Tribal belt is the central Indian contiguous belt.

    I have moved from Mumbai to live, work and farm (chikoos) in Dahanu about 6 years back and live in a typical Warli village.

    I also work closely with the Warli Hast Kala Gat ( a cooperative of Warli artists) and we are in the midst of building a small Tribal Arts Centre and Museum in one of the villages here.

    While the commercialisation of Warli art has its positives and negatives – what is has manged to do (negatively) is to individualise a form of expression that is really community owned. Therefore only a handful of artists have benefited from the mainstreaming while the community and several other artists grapple with negotiating the market. In reality the ideas and imagination belongs to the whole community.

    • mamta gautam permalink
      December 15, 2009 5:25 pm

      DEAR NITA ,

      one of my close frind has asked me to design a wedding card with he intention of providing soem finances fro any artisans or crafts men .
      i would like contact details of any warli artist who can do a original artwork for us , which cna be screen printed . due credits would eb given to the centre or the artist working on it .Its a small illustration on a4 size sheet, but i want it to look original and some artist to have the credit for it and get benefit of the same financially .kindly reply back little urgent.
      thanks a ton
      mamta

      mamta, I have no contact with any warli artist. Nita

  14. Vasu permalink
    May 12, 2008 7:11 pm

    I like warli painting to see .can u suggest me book to draw warli picture. pls send me mail on my id.

    • parwatisingari permalink
      April 22, 2012 8:02 pm

      Do you want a book to illustrate using warli painting, or do you want to learn warli painting?

  15. nitin permalink
    July 30, 2008 7:51 pm

    nita i also do warli painting. but i m not aware about commercial use. can u help me. mail me. thanks ,nitin

  16. shalini permalink
    August 1, 2008 3:31 pm

    i like ur pic can i add on my blog , i love to buy them , u also sell ??

  17. August 1, 2008 4:55 pm

    Shalini, I am a writer, not a painter. :)
    Also all these pictures are copyrighted and therefore you cannot take them for your blog. However if you are writing an article on Warli paintings on your blog and would like a photograph to use from here, you are welcome. But these are the conditions:
    1) your blog needs to have NO ads.
    2) only one photograph can be taken.
    3) You have to give a link to this post and acknowledge that you have taken a photograph from this particular article of mine.

    If you fulfill these conditions, I will be happy if you use a photograph.
    Thanks.

    Vasu and Nitin, I have no idea why you are asking me all these strange questions!! :) If I had the information you requested I would surely have given it here. If it isn’t here that means I don’t have it.

    Anyone else who asks these strange questions will not get a reply.

  18. Archana permalink
    October 31, 2008 3:44 pm

    Really very beautiful paintings, i too need a book how to draw a warli painting, can u suggest?

  19. October 31, 2008 6:11 pm

    What wonderful paintings! I would love to have some of that art in my home.

  20. March 8, 2009 12:37 pm

    Dear Nita,
    Could I use a copy of your first two pictures in a presentation about Indian folk art which I’m making on March 25 to a group of American folklore students? The pictures are beautiful, for different reasons. The dance has all the grace of a mandala, and the second picture has all the variety of a Rathwa pithora painting. I’ve loved the Warli paintings for a long time, though I’ve never seen one except in books.
    I promise not to do to your pictures what my student helper did to the pithoras I photographed in Gujarat ten years ago and put up on the internet. He typed English words across them; I am ashamed of that, but my computer skills aren’t good enough to erase the words without damaging the pictures.
    Have you ever heard of a woman named Marie Dorin? Back ten years ago, she had written a whole book about these tribal paintings and posted it on the internet, but it’s not there anymore and I can’t find out whether she published it or not.

    • March 8, 2009 12:47 pm

      Betsy you are welcome. If you like I can send you the orginals, which are slightly better in quality and without the watermark. I can do that later this day. Let me know if you want that.

    • Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
      March 8, 2009 2:48 pm

      @ Betsy Delmonico:

      Your reference to Rathwa pithora painting caught my attention. Did your exercise in Gujarat ten years ago bring you into contact with Prof. Ganesh Devy in Baroda? Or the Tribal Research Academy that he has founded in Tejgadh, close to Chhota Udepur? I ask because I have myself, over the last year, been associated with Prof. Devy and the Academy, and am very impressed by the work they are doing.

  21. Milind Kher permalink
    March 8, 2009 1:05 pm

    Warli paintings are extremely c-u-t-e. They have an innate innocence about them, which in this day and age is touching.

    I find a tremendous sense of peace when I look at Warli paintings. The photo of the lake near the Warli village was very nice too.

  22. Milind Kher permalink
    March 8, 2009 1:57 pm

    LOL! Didn’t read the caption above the Powai Lake photo. Thought it was a lake near the Warli village.

  23. vasudev permalink
    March 8, 2009 7:00 pm

    WOW! simply…WOW!. what an art!

  24. vasudev permalink
    March 8, 2009 7:01 pm

    reminds me of the ancient Egyptian paintings

  25. July 11, 2009 8:34 pm

    Thank you for this. I need it for my project. your paintings are beautiful. Can i copy some of pics from your blog. i thanks you again. i also kow this art.I am a student of class 6.

    yes ofcourse you can asavari. But they are watermarked. If you wish I can send you one of them on email, one that is not watermarked. Let me know which one or two that you want. – Nita

  26. Pooja Chatterjee permalink
    November 8, 2009 11:16 am

    Hi Nita,

    Lovely items i must say. Whats really amazing is the use of one single color because till date i have only seen warli paintings in multiple colors. I guess the beauty of these monotonic items is far more.
    Nita, I am a 5th semester student of NIFT, new delhi, studying textile design and have a presentation on the 20th of november 2009. i was hoping if you could send me a copy of the first and the fourth image. It would be a great help. :)

    Reply awaited.

    No problem at all. Will send the images. – Nita

  27. kirti permalink
    April 13, 2010 2:41 pm

    it is very beautiful.

  28. July 24, 2010 4:36 pm

    Nita, I stumbled by your blog, the article on Warli paintings and the comments, while looking for something else….and ofcourse I couldnt resist reading it.
    Just one word, as an add on to the Warli article…. I work very closely with a few artists to promote Hase Chitra ( which is Karnataka’s tribal art….equivalent to Warli)…and the point that keeps coming up time and again, is lack of innovation for today’s world…and that really is the reason why the art itself gets to evoke apathy in so many people…the sameness has been commericalised and the essence lost….the images you have at home are very standard and typical….and not unique.
    Art, especially community art, is something that depicts the mood of the day and if our traditional arts like Warli, Hase Chitra etc do not reinvent themselvesthey will die out like many others.
    The challenge is to contemporarise without losing the essence of the tradition.

    Warli unfortunately, has been commercialised without either.

    • parwatisingari permalink
      April 22, 2012 8:04 pm

      Hase chitra is not equivalent to warli, except for the fact that both are folk art, actually Karnataka as two other forms of wall painting right now I cannot recollect the name, they from Saagar and Malanaad region.

  29. Yash Shah permalink
    September 29, 2010 6:29 pm

    i require these pictures for my icse board project. so cud u send me d unmarked ones..

    thank you, yash

  30. parwatisingari permalink
    April 22, 2012 8:06 pm

    Great writing warli. more interesting are the comments.

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