When I was a child, my Mom told us stories about Warli art she saw in Jawhar. She told me about how her Government office is decorated in Warli art, and that the people of the tribe decorated those walls and corridors.
That was my first brush with Warli tribe, indirectly of course. As I got older, I started reading things on how the tribe is associated with superstition and black magic, and never got to know much about their culture. On the other hand, plagiarized Warli art became more and more common, owing to its simplicity and universal language.
Recently, I got an opportunity to spend some time with the Warli tribe in Maharashtra. I ended up learning a thing or two from them and came back with renewed respect for their ideologies, which are still relevant today.
The Warli is an indigenous tribe, found in northern parts of Maharashtra and some parts of Gujarat. It is a scheduled tribe and their language is Warli, which is a dialect of Marathi (mixture of Marathi and Konkani). They get their name from the word ‘Waaral’, which means manure (Agriculture was the prime occupation of the tribe). Their art is a depiction of their culture, heritage and their relationship with nature. Theirs is a rare community that doesn’t discriminate between genders in society, and between married and widow women for auspicious occasions. They worship nature and hence believe in peaceful and sustainable co-existence.
It is believed that their traditions date back to 2500 B.C., as similar murals are found in Rock Shelter of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh (which are believed to be created between 500 B.C to 10,000 B.C.)
I got to experience their village, their houses and how they decorate them on the outside and inside, how they create what they do and their beliefs.
Village and houses
One look at their houses and you’ll realise the houses belongs to Warli community – the walls and doors are covered in art. But the real charm is on the inside. The walls are painted in huge and meticulously made murals which are tradionally created during marriages, births of children and new harvest.
How are they made? The walls are coated with cow dung and later covered in red soil for canvas. The paintings are made using a mixture of rice dough and natural glue from trees. The delicate art is made using bamboo stick (like a paint brush). These murals have a life of 25-30 years. They are also made on cloth and take weeks to be created.
(In picture: A house wall in the village)
The tribe worships nature and there is no idol in the temple, but murals of sun, moon, and Earth. They have temple dedicated to deity of Waghoba, meaning tiger, as they acknowlegde and worship its role in balancing the food chain.
(In pictures: Temple of Waghoba)
Paintings and murals
The Warli paintings owe their origin to the tribe not having a written language, so they made paintings that depict their beliefs and tradition. The intention remains same as that of written language – passage of information from one person/generation to another. They are created using simple shapes like triangle, circle, and square; nature being the inspiration behind these shapes (For example, circle is inspired from sun and moon, triangle is inspired from mountains and pointed trees)
(In pictures: Mr. Parhad teaching us basics of Warli art, my art work)
The wedding mural is drawn on the house wall, and shows the arrangement and customs of the ceremony.
The following painting shows evolution of relationship between human beings and nature. It shows human beings when they existed in harmony with nature, deriving food from it (berries in the case of this painting) to how they no longer peacefully co-exist. At the centre of it, Mother Nature is shown weeping.
One of the local residents showed us how they make hair pins, baskets and mats out of bamboo stem. Though the process looks simple, it involves technique and precision that lend the items strength and beauty.
They also make a musical instrument called Tarpa out of bamboo, which is native to the community. They perform the Tarpa dance during festivals and new harvest, in which both men and women participate.
(In pictures: Bamboo artifacts making process, Tarpa musical instrument, Tarpa dance)
Challenges faced by the community
The community understandably feels the need to preserve its culture. It faces fear of losing their language, as schools in their villages do not teach Warli to children. Artists in the community teach their children the concepts of Warli art, so that they don’t lose touch with their traditions. But perhaps the biggest challenge they face is in terms of plagiarized Warli art, and their need for intellectual property rights. Hopefully with the efforts of skill-sharing NGOs like ‘Adivasi Yuva Seva Sangh’ and ‘Warli Art Foundation’, their art forms receive rightful recognition.
Artworks are by renowned Warli artist Mr. Sanjay Parhad, whose work has been published in 17 countries. He is a recipient of Palghar Bhushan Award.
If you’ve read so far, thank you very much for your time.
If you wish to know more or offer suggestion, you can shoot me an email at nidhi.thehappychapter.com or connect with me on Instagram: @nidhigupta_
(All pictures are taken by me, unless mentioned)