Warli Art

Jivya Soma Mashe`s work exhibited at Quai Branley, Paris.

Jivya Soma Mashe, a Warli artist who popularised the Warli tribal art form.

Warli art in a contemporary home.

Showcase 30 Sep 2015

India’s tribal artform – Warli

The mural paintings of the Warli tribe, an ancient tribe from the coastal region of Maharashtra and Gujarat, use the basic graphic elements of circles, triangles, and squares to form evocative and intricate graphics with limited colours depicting human association with nature. This form of painting is now popular as artwork on walls and furnishings in urban homes as well.

Traditions of Warli

To see this art form in its natural setting, take a two-and-a-half hour’s drive from Mumbai, and you will find yourself in the sylvan surroundings of the villages in Dahanu where paddy fields, and coconut, palm, and mahua trees, rustle in the breeze. Hidden away amidst these surroundings are villages that carry forward the ancient tradition of Warli art. 

Simple, linear forms used in this art communicate the tribe’s way of life, their social customs, the flora and fauna of their region, their occupations, harvest cycles, and daily activities. Traditionally, only white was used in creating Warli paintings and the base was a mix of earth colours and natural stains, such as henna, cow dung, red soil, and other mineral colours. Earlier, women were the main repositories of this heritage and suvasins (married women) created the paintings on walls. The appeal of the composition lies in their simplicity of form, while conveying the profound. Today Warli painting is widely recognised and sought after in India and internationally.

Themes Depicted In Warli

Warli art uses the following major themes: 

1. Harvest cycles: Depictions of the sowing  of crop, ploughing, cutting, husking,  and threshing. 

2. Forests and rivers: Paintings of birds, animals, trees of the forest, and the soil. Trees are depicted in their natural form and with their leaf patterns. 

3. Lagna: Portrayal of ceremonies related to marriage. The lagna chowk or marriage square is painted by the women of the village for a newlywed couple setting up their home. This is given as a good luck symbol to the couple. Sometimes a marriage procession is also depicted  with the bride and the groom on horses. 

4. Tarpa: Depictions of the community’s dance—the Tarpa dance—done in rhythmic circles, where women and men entwine their arms together to create a sinuous chain. The Tarpa is a traditional trumpet-like instrument used in festivals. 

5. Nagpanchami: Paintings showing the festival dedicated to the snake god.  Here the life cycle of creatures that live under the soil are shown. These living creatures help keep the soil fertile and the ecosystem robust. 

6. Everyday village life: Portrayals of everyday activities in a village, such as going to the market, women cooking, men harvesting palm fruit and brewing toddy. 

7. Monsoon: Illustrations of the rain, clouds, harvesting in the fields, and the sun. 

8. Wagheya: Depictions of Wagheya, the community’s animistic god of the forest, in a temple. The god is often shown surrounded by birds paying obeisance. 

9. Folklore: Illustrations of the community’s popular folklore. The most common is  the story of the bel tree


Originally these murals were painted on the inner or outer walls of the village houses. A rich, earthy base using mud, cow dung, and other materials was used. Powdered rice husk, made into a white paste, was the paint brushed on to the prepared base. The drawings use strong, flowing lines and are all created free hand, without the aid of prior tracing or sketching. 

Contemporary Application

Nowadays, Warli paintings are usually made on a cloth canvas, with earthy bases like rust brown, green, or dark brown. The figures and line work are made with white, powdered rice paint. The artwork is nowadays created by both the men and women of the village. There is a revival of this art form in urban homes, accessories, and even clothing. Today, in a modern take on Warli, artists paint on canvas and use vibrant acrylic colours to create contemporary renditions. Murals are now recreated in homes, and are protected with additional coatings.

Jivya Soma Mashe`s work exhibited at Quai Branley, Paris.

Jivya Soma Mashe, a Warli artist who popularised the Warli tribal art form.

Warli art in a contemporary home.

Baaya design is a retail store and studio that offers a range of folk and cultural artwork, home accessories, and skill-based consultancy services. Their range speaks of India’s age-old exquisite skills while mapping the current day markets with products that are contemporary expressions of traditional skills. Baaya design aims to showcase the beauty and workmanship of Indian traditions through aesthetic products that combine traditional skills with a contemporary lifestyle.


All images courtesy Baaya Design, except:

• Opening image and details from the Sanskriti Kendra Museum
• Profile image of Jivya Soma Mashe by Romain Mounier-Poulat » commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jivya_Soma_Mashe.jpg
• Exhibition image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra » flickr.com/photos/ dalbera/4489836226/in/set-72157602939746664



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