Imagine a traditional Indian wedding: the ‘mandap’ decorated with flowers and twigs, musicians playing the percussion and stringed instruments, the bride arriving in the ‘doli’ (the traditional Indian carriage) and the groom seated on horse escorted by a crowd dancing to the tunes of the musicians.
It all seems like a typical movie shot with obsession over colours, details, light and you name it.
Now, just imagine, a painting telling you the same story without fussing over all the jargon but still putting up a spectacular show. This is a Warli painting for you on any given day.
Wedding paintings are considered very sacred among the people of the tribe making it existent in all of their wedding ceremonies. ‘Palghat’ the marriage God can be seen illustrated in almost all the paintings of the tribe along with all the merriment adding life to these paintings.
Through simple techniques, it also depicts a bird’s eye-view of the day-to-day life of a tribe in the society. In its original form, the Warli paintings used to portray a number of activities like hunting, fishing, farming, rituals of a festival, daily routines of the village folk along with their customs and beliefs. Harvest of their crops was celebrated as a festival and all details of these festivities were told as tales in the paintings. Man’s involvement with the nature to carry out even the most mundane of activities became themes of these life-like paintings. The finished art work was anything but mundane.
These paintings are the gift of Warli and Malkhar koli tribes, residing in the outskirts of Mumbai, to traditional Indian art with all the art work done by women. They were discovered around the seventies and the tradition bears its roots to as early as 2500 B.C. They were originally painted as murals on an earthen background using the colour white derived out of rice paste and bamboo sticks sharpened to aid as brushes. The walls of the huts dotting the entire village could be seen adorning these paintings with different themes.
None of these paintings have their basis as mythology but are purely based on the social life of these people.
The paintings are comprised of simple geometric shapes like triangles showing trees and mountains, circles representing the Sun and the Moon and squares representing Gods and various man-made objects. ‘Palghata’ is the Goddess of fertility portrayed as a square or ‘chauk’. A series of dots and dashes make a line and a human body is rendered as a combination of two triangles, a circle and lines.
‘Tarpa’ dance where all the folks are dancing in the form of a circle, along with traditional instruments, is illustrated in the form of paintings. This is said to be symbolic to the circle of life which is nature’s way of bringing a new life after taking away another. The painting is also symbolic of the harmony of the universe that maintains balance of life and death and everything in between.
The evolution of Warli paintings has imbibed the spirit and lifestyle of modern day lives with men also involved in creating these paintings. They can now be seen painted in a rich palette of colours that match the story of the painting. The canvases now range from hand-made paper, cloth to the walls of a house. The colours used for the paintings are in contrast to the background. Artefacts like mugs, lamps, pots, clothes, greeting cards, invitations and several other wall décor bear these paintings.
These paintings are now exported commercially worldwide adding another feather to the hat of vibrant art from India to the world.