Warli paintings take their name from the Warli tribe of east India. The Warli people make their living by cultivation, gathering forest produce and domesticating livestock. Before catching the attention of urban world in 1970s, Warli paintings adorned the huts of the Warli people. Painting is an integral part of their rituals. They are typically painted in the form of murals on the inside walls of Warli huts and are repeatedly erased and replaced by new paintings at the time of rituals. Probably this volatile nature of the Warli paintings is the reason they were not discovered until late by the outside world. Today Warli painting is an internationally recognized and appreciated art form.
Though the exact time period of its origin is not known, it has been traced back to the 10th century. The painting style reminds one of pre-historic cave paintings. Each painting is usually an entire scene that contains various elements of nature including people, animals, trees, hills etc. The thread that binds all these loose elements can be events like a marriage, a dance, sowing, harvesting or hunting. Different varieties of trees are drawn in detail forming intricate decorative patterns. Birds, squirrels, monkeys, snakes and other animals are also depicted, frequently in action. Other elements in nature like streams and rocks are also featured.
In spite of being so close to Mumbai, a major metropolis in India, the Warli people maintained their rural culture for a long time incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs in their paintings. Typical Warli motifs are common to all paintings but each artist has different way of drawing them making each one’s style recognizably unique. Though everyone uses lines, circles and triangles for rendering different objects, the curve of the lines, the proportion and the body angle of the human and the animal figures, the leaf patterns for the trees characterize them.
With the recent exposure to the outer world and the entry of a new generation of Warli artists, the urban culture is making its way into the paintings in the form of modern elements like bicycles, cars, trains, buildings etc.
(Some material is taken from the work of Jasmine K Dharod – fieldwork report for NFSC folk festival 2002)