The Warli Paintings of Central India

First Rain Folk Art from India Indian Art Indian Painting Tribal Art Warli Warli Paintings Warli Tribal Art

The Warli tribal people of central India make beautiful paintings with rice paste on mud cloth.

Whenever we go to India we search for traditional paintings, each local culture has a style that gives you an insight into their lives. The Warli paint on the walls of their houses with a white paint made from rice and milk. The paintbrush is a twig with the end chewed to make it soft and fibrous. When they paint on canvas they coat the cloth with a mud paste so their paintings look like the walls of their houses.

Their paintings show you village life - they show you a view of their world. As we start to cover the world in concrete I believe these paintings are a precious record of another life, a life in the natural world. The Warli live in Maharasthra, inland from Mumbai; the origins of Warli painting go back to the 10th century. In some ways they are not dissimilar to ancient cave paintings and there are threads of connection that predate the Common Era.

Warli painting of a spider web & trees
The paintings are full of detail, just in the bottom corner we can see a woman carrying a baby on her hip, others with a basket on her head and another with a bag over her shoulder while a someone is beating a buffalo pulling a cart loaded with ananother basket.
Warli Painting
Often it's quite hard to know what's going on in Warli paintings but perhaps that's not surprising since my life is quite different to life in the village of the forests of central India. In the centre of this unusual painting of concentric circles is a person holding what could be a large bracelet sitting next to a basket and possibly a wooden stand. If anyone can throw light on what's going on please let me know! Look closely and you'll see that some of the patterns are up of lines of people dancing.

Circular Warli painting
If we're wondering if the central figure is a man or woman, I'm not sure. The representation of the hair standing up on end is fairly common. One way to distinguish men from women is clear in this next painting where most of the musicians are men; they have simple round heads whereas a woman in the top left is shown with a bun on her head. The large trumpet like instrument is a sacred item called a Tarpa; the Tarpa dance is an important part of Warli ritual enacted at time of harvest, wedding and childbirth.

Warli painting of a Tarpa dance
A different scene unfolds in the lower half of this painting which reveals another aspect of the Warli view of the world - a view that we would be advised to listen to. Fish, birds, animals and human beings are all painted roughly the same size. Of course this could simply be dependent on the simple paintbrush they use but to me it suggests that all life is equally important.

Warli painting of a village and river
If you like this article you may want to read other blogs we've written about Warli art:
If you want to see more or buy Warli paintings you can find them in our Paintings Collection.

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