Warli paintings: Moving the art beyond the village walls

Tribal communities mostly live in proximity to nature and have deep reverence to the ecosystem that they live in. This is reflected in their art and craft. Aniket Khupse, the famous tribal artist, brings us close to the tribal way of living through his art work which has been celebrated as part of Maharashtra’s Folk Craft Festival in Delhi’s Craft Museum.

Aniket Khupse has been practising warli art from his childhood. His endeavour is to keep this art alive. So he has been painting not just on walls but also on saleable products. “I don’t want this art to die. If I just paint only on walls, it may not reach a larger audience. I have been painting this art on all useful products which can be bought and kept at home. This way warli art can reach more and more people,” says Aniket Khupse.

  “Tribal and folk art forms are among the most glorious living traditions of India. Art, among the tribal and folk communities in India, was never indulged in purely for pleasure. Its purpose was equally to pacify the malevolent deities and to pay homage and express gratitude to the benevolent ones. Festivals are linked to the two agricultural crop cycles of sowing, reaping, harvesting, and storing; festivities are also related to events such as birth, puberty, and marriage,” says Aniket Khupse

“Warli art can also be called as tribal art as it is the vivid expression of daily and social events of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra. As this style of tribal art is 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.”  says Aniket Khupse about the art. 

Warli is a form of wall painting with typical human figures, which are the main striking features of this painting.

Maharashtra is known for its Warli folk paintings. Warli is the name of the largest tribe found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai, in Western India. Despite being in such close proximity of the largest metropolis in India, Warli tribesmen shun all influences of modern urbanization. Warli Art was first discovered in the early seventies. Its roots may be traced to as early as the 10th century A.D.

These tribal paintings are traditionally done in the homes of the Warlis. Painted white on mud walls, they are pretty close to pre-historic cave paintings in execution and usually depict hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting scenes. Originally the only colour used in creating warli paintings is white, with occasional dots in red and yellow. This colour is obtained from grounding rice into white powder.

Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings. These paintings do not depict mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life. Images of human beings and animals, along with scenes from daily life are created in a loose rhythmic pattern.

These themes are highly repetitive and symbolic. Many of the Warli paintings that represent Palaghat, the marriage god, often include a horse used by the bride and groom. The horse is symbolic of something that this poor community can ill-afford. The painting is sacred and without it, the marriage cannot take place. These painting also serve social and religious aspirations of the local people. It is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods. The traditional drawings in Warli paintings are the chowks. Palaghat, the most significant mother goddess, is shown seated in the chowk. Palaghat, the deity, is drawn by making two triangles, with their tips meeting each other in the centre. Since Warli tribals are agriculturists, Hariali Deva, the god of plants, also occupies a prominent place in the Warli pictograph. Other characters in the traditional Warli painting are Pancha Sirya Deva, the five-headed god, and the headless warrior, who is either standing or riding a horse. The selective imaginative use of triangles, circles and dots, only in white, on a muddy surface, gives a perfect magical vibrancy to the paintings done by the Warlis.

In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes make one line. The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These days, even young men have taken to painting and they are often done on paper incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs with modern elements as well such as the bicycle, etc. Warli paintings on paper have become very
 popular and are now sold all over India. Today they are into a marketable commodity.

The major attraction of the folk festival at Crafts Museum is the huge installation of the 18th century chariot of Maharashtra made of wood and metal. The chariot was used for temple processions. It is designed after a temple with deities carved on its shikara. This chariot is actually Ram Ratha (incarnation of Vishnu) showing images of Rama and his devotees on the front side under the carved canopy. Other carvings on the four sides show other incarnations of Vishnu, mythical musicians and animal, supported by four wheels.