In her book The Painted World of the Warlis Yashodhara Dalmia claimed that the Warlis carry on a tradition stretching back to 2500 or 3000 BC. Their mural paintings are similar to those done between 500 and 10,000 BC in the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, in Madhya Pradesh.
The paintings shown below are available to buy on our Indian Paintings page.
The structure of Warli paintings
Their paintings usually use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a 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. Only the square seems to obey a different logic and seems to be a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. So the central motive in each ritual painting is the square, known as the “chauk” or “chaukat”, mostly of two types: Devchauk and Lagnachauk. Inside a Devchauk, we find Palaghata, the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility.
Significantly, male gods are unusual among the Warli and are frequently related to spirits which have taken human shape. 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. Their precarious equilibrium symbolizes the balance of the universe, and of the couple, and has the practical and amusing advantage of animating the bodies.
Modern developments in Warli paintings
Adding to the vitality of the artform, newer elements such as trains sometimes appear in their paintings. They have a naive but stylised form similar to the paintings of trains that appear in the painted havelis of Shekawati.
Pigments used in Warli Paintings
Traditionally their white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binding. They use a bamboo stick chewed at the end to make it as supple as a paintbrush. Wall paintings are done only for special occasions such as weddings or harvests.