Unassuming Warli figures painted in white on red ochre walls might not seem like much to the untrained eye. But a closer look will tell you that there’s more to Warli than what meets the eye. It is not just an art form, but a way of life for the Warli (Varli) tribes from the mountains and coastal regions in and around the borders of Maharashtra and Gujarat. This art form that originated around 3000 BC has an enigmatic appeal to it.
The intricate geometric patterns of flowers, wedding rituals, hunting scenes and other everyday activities are quite popular among fashion designers and home décor brands. Those from the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra surely have a sense of sentiment attached to the art form as they’ve seen it on the walls of rural schools and homes way before they became popular on modern lifestyle products. The simple, yet beautifully delicate patterns have a certain raw appeal about them.
The tribe has been using basic materials for painting like rice paste with water and gum for the white paint and a bamboo stick that has been chewed on that serves as a brush. It is this simple charm that has attracted designers like Anita Dongre and James Ferreira to use the paintings in their collections. Invented way before the age of cell phones, smileys and emoticons, Warli paintings don’t just pull at your heartstrings thanks to their rustic charm, they also tell a vivid story. Such is the charm of this ancient art that it also adorns many hotel lobbies and rooms proudly. There’s something about these paintings that take us back to the time, setting and sentiment behind the art — be it a funeral scene or the act of worshipping the tribal gods. Today, the Warli art form is not only popular in metros like Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi, but internationally as well.
Warli in everyday life
With the back-to-the-roots movement taking over every part of our lives, art lovers flaunt the Warli motif with pride. Traditionally, this painting is done on a red ochre background with white paint and these are the only two colours used. But, today, a variety of colours are being used to replicate these artistic motifs on fabrics, home décor or other artistic forms.
Of all those who are taking inspiration from this art, the lifestyle sector is the one that is most fascinated by its richness. From brightly coloured umbrellas to coffee mugs and tea cups, rustic wall clocks, accents for walls and stationery — Warli is pretty much everywhere. And it doesn’t stop here. The art of Warli is every Indian fashion designer’s new darling. From adorning the borders of colourful scarves and kurtis to embellishing the luxurious jute and silk sarees, Warli has taken over the ramp for good.
Not just art
Warli art to some extent makes us think of being environmentally conscious and finding joy in simple things of life. The Warli people lead fairly simple lives. Earlier, they worshipped nature and depended on nature for food and everyday living. They did not believe in disrupting nature or taking more than they needed. The Warli people believe in harmony between nature and man, and these beliefs are often reflected in their paintings.
This train of thought also holds true for our lives today. A lot of urban folk are now adopting a minimalist lifestyle by staying away from technology whenever possible, eating clean, embracing handloom and taking a closer look at science behind ancient customs and traditions. So, it isn’t much of a surprise that traditional art forms like Warli are making their way back into our society to remind us of the simple pleasures of life.
The tribes have also used Warli paintings to impart knowledge. Today, it stands tall among other forms of painting with Maharashtrian artists like Jivya Mashe and his sons Balu and Sadashiv striving hard to keep the art form alive. In fact, Mashe was awarded the Padma Shri in 2011 for making the art form popular in international circuits.
Though popularly known as stick figures, it would be interesting to note that there aren’t any straight lines used in Warli paintings. They are usually crooked lines, dots, circles and triangles. Human and animal bodies are represented by two triangles joined at the tip. Their precarious equilibrium symbolises the balance of the universe, Essentially ritualistic, Warli paintings were usually made by married women to celebrate a wedding. Though a lot of these paintings are based on rituals associated with fertility and prosperity, there’s always a touch of realism in them. The paintings were also used to decorate the huts of Warli tribes, usually made from a mixture of cow dung and red mud.
Interestingly, the central motif of these paintings portray scenes of hunting, fishing and farming, festivals and dances, trees and animals. Apart from ritualistic paintings, other Warli paintings cover day-to-day activities of the village folk. One of the important aspects of most Warli paintings is the “Tarpa dance” – the tarpa is a trumpet-like instrument, which is played in turns by different men. While the music plays, men and women join their hands and move in circles around the tarpa players. This circle of the dancers is also symbolic of the circle of life.
Many of us might wonder why the fuss about an art form that restricts itself to two colours. But this classic simplicity is what makes this art stand out from the clutter.
Keeping the art alive
While art forms like these are finding it hard to survive in this digital age, a few thoughtful souls are doing their bit to keep tradition alive. One such saviour is Govardhan Eco Village in Thane district that makes an effort to keep this art form alive by providing Warli artists various platforms to display their art.
In February 2016, a group of Japanese artists adopted the Ganjad village in Palghar district in an effort to keep the art form alive. This group of social artists from Japan have also been constructing huts from cow dung, mud and bamboo sticks to promote painting on the walls. Dahanu is another village that has managed to keep Warli art alive. In a world of excesses, unpretentiousness is a rarity and this art form keeps that belief alive. So, purchasing and promoting hand-painted Warli items seems like a fitting tribute to this one-of-a-kind art form. And while you’re at it, you might want learn a thing or two from their way of living.
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