The Warlis: Painters of life

The Warlis: Painters of life

February 1, 2012 Off By Vinayak Gole


Based at a stone’s throw from the busy hustle and bustle of city life, is the small and very intriguing tribe of the Warlis. The tribe, settled in the Thane district, about 150 kms. from Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, has stringently over the years, maintained its rituals and customs. What is particularly interesting about the people’s customs is their affinity to nature and everything natural.
Though there is nothing known for fact, oral tradition and stories, trace back the Warlis to nearly 3000 BCE. The tribes have been known to live in the forests, away from civilization until the British evicted them and resettled them on the fringes. Warli sects are found predominantly in Thane, Nasik and Dhule in Maharashtra, in Valsad in Gujarat and in the Union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. The Warlis speak a dialect which is a mixture of Khandesi Bhili and Marathi. The written script is usually Marathi or Gujarati.
The Warlis, have traditionally always worshiped Nature and it is also obvious in their concepts and traditions. The Warli offspring is always advised not to harm but to live in harmony with the forces of nature.

Culture and Paintings:

The Warli concept of worshiping nature is also depicted in their art and paintings. The basically rudimentary paintings follow a typical style of basic geometrical elements like a circle, a triangle and a square. The circle depicts the sun and the moon, the triangle, the mountains and the trees and the square, land. The central theme of all the paintings are usually everyday activities like fishing, farming, dancing and festivals all happening around forces of nature. The characters are again depicted by geometric shapes, mostly triangles, joined mostly at the center.
Each character depicts balance, tells stories about nature and the circle of life and preaches the existence of harmony with nature.
The paintings are also made from everyday articles of use. The paintings are usually painted on red background with white lines. The traditional wall paintings use cow dung and earth, making up the red background. The white paint is usually made of rice paste and glue and is painted with a bamboo stick chewed into a brush. The paintings always follow the traditional rudimentary style forming a pattern.
Even with consumerism and capitalism poaching on art and culture, the Warlis have managed to keep their art and their culture their own. With their strong beliefs about nature being the Supreme Being, the Warlis actively refuse to merge into the popular modern motto of “live and let die”. The Warli art has been much appreciated worldwide but they have always maintained their low profile, living with nature and painting it. And ideal race in a materialistic world, the Warlis, do continue to inspire many.

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