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What is Warli Art?

India is a nation of diversities. Its ancient history is filled with remnants of past empires and civilization. The artifacts left behind by these civilizations is how we can get an idea of what they used to be like. Warli art is one such remnant of an ancient people’s tradition left behind as the world progressed beyond them.

In actuality, Warli painting is a tribal artform originally practiced by the Warli tribe of Maharashtra. This adivasi tribe lives mainly in the coastal regions of the Maharashtra-Gujarat border and its surrounding area of the northern Sahayadri hills. Traditionally, paintings were made on the mud walls of dwellings of the tribe but nowadays they can be seen everywhere from postcards to posters.

courtesy Wikimedia

How Did Warli Become Popular?

The popularity of Warli art can be attributed to Jivya Soma Mashe (1934-2018). He was an artist based in Thane district who was the first to draw Warli art on a daily basis rather than for ritualistic purposes. This turned the then unknown art to a household name in the 1970s. For this achievement he was awarded the Pamashree award in 2011. He was accorded a state funeral for his contribution to popularizing Warli art.

Characteristics of Warli Paintings

Warli paintings are essentially pictograms with the basic geometric shapes of circles, triangles and squares. Circles and triangles are purported to have been derived from nature; the sun and moon for circles and mountains and pointed trees for triangles. The square however, is a human invention and depicts a sacred enclosure or piece of land.

You will find the square in many ritual paintings, specially those depicting Palaghata, the mother goddess, who depicts fertility. Aside from this human figures appear as two inverse triangles sitting on top of one another. Male figures have a bigger upper triangle and female figures have a bigger lower triangle.

by Jivya Soma Mashe

Aside from ritualistic paintings, traditional Warli artists also paint the daily lives of the tribesmen. Among these depictions in the tarpa dance, where a group of dancers face a tarpa player and dance around them. This is also said to signify the circle of life.

Modern Warli paintings are not ritualistic but still depict the daily lives of the tribe and its dances. They can be painted on a variety of surfaces with a variety of colours. Traditional paintings on the other hand are painted on mud walls using white pigment made from rice paste and water with gum as binder.

Warli Art of Today

Warli paintings have a Geographical Indication (GI) Tag as of 2011 and a protected intellectual property of the Warli tribe. They are popular worldwide and its export brings considerable profit to Warli artists. This has in turn drawn attention to the tribe itself which has improved their conditions.

Warli art can now be found in the form of postcards, clothing, posters, wall art, framed paintings etc.


Warli art is an example of how one man can change the destiny of an entire people. Jivya Soma Mashe strived to popularize Warli culture in the way he knew, through art. And he succeeded wildly beyond our imaginations. Now it is our turn to push the boundaries. There are many artforms languishing in darkness in the country. In the race for economic growth, we have neglected our culture and arts. Let us bring the focus back to the arts, give us something that we can be proud of. Let us all come together and revive these long lost artforms. If we can get even a fraction of the success that Jivya Soma Mashe experienced, I can be content.

1 comment

  1. Maintain the good job and bringing in the crowd!

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