A Complete Guide to Warli Painting


Abiding at the foot of the Western Ghat Range in Maharastra, India, is the settlement of an ancient tribe known as the warli. These are tribal people, wgo survive on forest produce, worship nature and have earned an international name for themselves by virtue of their artistry. What originated as a domestic ritual of ceremonial beautification is now revered as a folk art of immense value. The name of the clan has been extended to the art form and today it is termed as “Warli Paintings”.


The Warli speak an unwritten dialect which is cross between Sanskrit, Marathi and Gujarati. The word ” Warli” comes from” Warla” which means a piece of land or a field.

Their extremely simple wall paintings using very basic forms- circle, triangle and square. The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature; the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived from mountains and pointed trees.The square seems to have a different logic and appears to be a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. The Central Motif in each ritual painting is the square, the chowk ( or chowkat); inside it one finds the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility.

The central motif in these ritual paintings is surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing and farming, festivals and dances, trees and animals.

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. The un stable equilibrium symbolizes the balance of the universe, and of the couple, and has the practical and amusing advantage of animating the bodies. A head, arm, legs are added to both the forms and the women are distinguished by a bun at the back of their heads.


The Warli paintings were discovered by the world as late as the seventh decade of the last century. This art form is very simple in comparison to the vibrant paintings from Madhubani. The only color used in creating warli painting is white. Traditionally, warli people lived in Mud houses and to adorn the plain walls, they cover them with murals depicting their daily life and their relationships with nature and god. ” Paint” was made from ground rice flour and traditionally the women created the murals for the home. This combination of mud and flour produces a vivid single color of white on reddish-brown and has resulted in rich pictures of various themes and moods. These painting tell stories and make a record of their simple lifestyle.

The themes of Warli range from everyday agricultural activities to hunting, to a normal day in their life. For the warli, these relationships have existed for centuries and yet the line between the present and the past is blurred since the Warli believe that these relationships are bound neither by time nor space but exists as an integral part of the culture as a whole.

The Warli uses painting to express their happiness that they feel at various festivals like Dussehra, Diwali and Navratri. Painting is a distinct part of their life. The art reflects the innocent life of warli people and its very communicative and alive. The lines in these paintings depict the binding between human and nature and show the mood of the artist. During the festivals the women compete with each other to decorate the walls of their houses with great enthusiasm. The pictures of God and Goddess are believed to protect them from evil spirits.

The original symbolism of the paintings was (and still is ) found in wedding ceremonies and the ceremony could not take place until a painting was complete. These paintings are called Chowk’s since they show a “chowk” or square in the middle. Usually chowk’s also showed Palghat, the marriage god. This is why even today, the paintings are considered sacred by the warli and they invoke the power of the Gods.

The Tarpa dance is another speciality of Warli Culture and is a harvest dance. The most vivid paintings depict scenarios based on this culture. Tarpas are instruments made from Bamboo and seeds of pumpkin and holes are made so that different notes can be played somewhat like a pipe flute. Girls dance to the Tarpa beat wearing colorful clothes and young boys join along side. The person playing the Tarpa stand in the middle and is surrounded by the others in a spiral. When the dance reaches a climax the enthusiasm of the tribe also reaches its zenith. This Tarpa Nritya is an area where many paintings have been created. The beat, rhythm and dance are beautifully captured by the painting.

In another way the Warli culture is termed as rice culture, as rice is a life giver to the tribe. Rice farming is of immense importance in their culture so much so that they use it extensively for their paintings. When the crop is ready, the worship it, offering rice as a puja to the Goddess of Kansari.


Sacred or secular, always simple straight forward and full of joy. Warli Painting with their muted colors instantly appealed to all art lovers as they traveled to cities. And so it was that the warlis moved on to painting on paper surfaced brown to depict the effect of their wall painting, creating scaled down versions of the compositions that covered the walls of their homes to convey the essence of their endearing art. As cloth surfaced with a thin coat of mud. Apart from painting on canvas, paper and cloth. Warli artist started painting on linen, saree, stationary, home decor products for sale.


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