The Beautiful World of Warli Tribal Art

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My love for traditional tribal art is not a lifelong affair, but it did start when I gained enough maturity to understand and appreciate the beauty of an ancient culture, kept alive, despite the odds.

The traditional art work made its début when thousands of years ago the humans started painting the wall of their caves, then they moved on to the proper dwellings and other buildings, but their art work continued to adorn the walls. The story is no more different for the traditional tribal art work, no wonder, most of the traditional tribal art originated as wall-paintings or should I say murals.

With passage of time, the commercialization of our art-world has also brought about the change in the approach of Tribal Painters too. With ever-increasing demands from art-lovers, from India and abroad, for their traditional tribal art-work, the Tribal Painters have started to paint on the clothes and on papers too. These folk art forms have become a means to earn a decent livelihood for them.

For hundreds of years, these amazing tribal art works have been kept alive by the tribal communities. Let me take you into the less-known world of traditional Warli tribal art-work.

Warli tribe of Thane and Nasik areas of Maharashtra lends its name to, now world-renowned Warli Paintings. It is believed that Warli Painting traces its history way back in the Neolithic period of 2500 B.C. and 3000 B.C. The USP of Warli Painting lies in simplicity. It’s a basic art form compared to other colourful tribal art-forms of India.

If one gets a chance to visit Warli Tribal village then it would be nice to see Warli Tribal Art in their natural surroundings. Traditionally, in every Warli tribal village, the “Savashinis” married women usually paint these art-works to celebrate the marriage ceremony. They use grass and / or twigs to draw the lively design works.

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In Warli Art, the artist only uses white colour, which they get from grinding rice into powder and then use that white colour to paint on walls and floors of their homes. The surface on which these paintings have to done, they are washed and cleaned thoroughly, and then mixture of wet cow dung and red mud is applied on the surface, thereby giving unique brownish colour to the backdrop.

As these art-works are considered auspicious and they are part of fertility rites; hence these art works are closely associated with social rituals and connotations. The message of growth and prosperity of their tribe is ingrained in these art-works. But it’s interesting to note that the artists do not fail to give their individualistic touch to their art-works.

Passed from one generation to another, the “Savashinis” are expert in making these art-works. They adhere to the customary conventions and the cosmic laws that these art-works represents. When the Savashinis married women paint theses, the Dhavaleris (married female priests) sing traditional songs.

In the Warli paintings, the artists display their love for the mythological characters and the deities but at the same time they never forget to add bit of realism and give expression to their individualistic tastes. So more often in Warli art-work, we see tribal-folks engaged in the usual day-to-day activities like farming, dancing, hunting, praying, et al. One could also find the revered Goddess Palghat in many of these art-works.

From an artist’s point of view, these traditional paintings usually avoid the use of straight lines. In fact, the traditional Warli painters use rows of dots and dashes to draw a straight line. The figures of humans and the animals, they generally have triangular kind of shape with hands and legs, sticking out like rods. However, the times are changing, even in the world of Warli art-works. Keeping up with the changing times, one of my start-up is into the business of selling traditional tribal art-works made by tribal artists.

Tribal Voices

Now even Warli men-folks have started painting and made huge names for them. Some of the contemporary Warli tribal painters have started experimenting with their style too, adding touch of modernity. Observing the evolution of Warli tribal art is joy in itself, as it adapts itself to the growing market-economy of the art-world, yet preserving its matchless heritage.

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Sameer Bhagat

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Social-Activist. Author of SALVAGING ADIDWEEP.


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