Unique Art of Warli Paintings by Sudha Satyawadi

Unique Art of Warli Paintings

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Unique Art of Warli Paintings
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Warli painting has its own place in adivasi art of India. It takes its name from the Warli tribes of Maharashtra. It seems their roots are in the rock shelters of ancestors found in Bhimbhedka and Raisen in Madhya Pradesh. Warli paintings are pointers – they fulfill a purpose. Their presence in the hut is auspicious and is said to promote fertility, avert disease, propitiate the dead, etc. They show rituals at birth, marriage, a life full of dance and music, livelihood, connectivity with death and life after death. Artists express a kind of fulfillment they experience that is in harmony with nature and their gods and goddesses.

Warli art is simple yet rich. The material used for painting is simple, themes contained therein, philosophy of existence and even life beyond death, all are brought forth in a most elementary format. Many specimens of Warli art are contained in this book. The paintings are expressive with profound truths and project all that one needs to know how to live a happy life. Austere brown wall surface of huts displaying tribal designs with typical rock art motifs make Warli art different from other tribal paintings of India.

This book is a modest compilation of Warli art that comes through an unbroken tradition of thousands of years. But Warli art traditions are gradually vanishing. Money elsewhere is pulling artists away from their traditional occupation. Something has to be done by society to create conditions for them, to not get weaned away by lure of commercial avenues. This book is a small effort to save this art from falling off from the pathway of time continuum.

Dr Sudha Satyawadi is an artist, a researcher, an author. Tribal, rural and folk arts are her interests and she has spent over fifty years on these. Exhibitions of her paintings on rural and folk art have been held in New Delhi, Melbourne, Gaborone, Universities of Standford, Berkeley, Louisiana, Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the last ten years or so. She heads an NGO called Udayan created for encouraging the rural artists who work deep inside a village. She spends much time with them and is working for them. With her background she is trying to preserve this dying art and encourage artists by giving them exposure in the global world. She has authored two books.


Folk and tribal art have always fascinated me. This art originated in early tribal and agriculture communities containing in itself and thoughts and beliefs of early man. After a long continuous journey through generations it is still popular in villages and is now attracting urban art lovers. Over time, this art came into contact with numerous cultures and has assimilated outside influence, without losing its original character. In early stages this art was associated with religion. As of today, different regions have their own style of painting. Yet there is something common with other styles and some regional peculiarities. All such traditional art has contributed to building the culture of this country.

Warli Art got its name from Warli tribes of Maharashtra. Their art is very close to rock art of central India but with a powerful narrative power. Warli paintings added a new dimension to tribal art. They use brown mud plastered walls of their huts as their canvas, and paint tribal designs in while or brilliant sindura red. Agricultural implements used by them, and areas allotted for rice pounding, worship, marriage etc. are all decorated with typical motifs like tress and creepers, birds and animals, sun and moon, man and woman. Painting is also done on side walls at the entrance of dwellings. Main focus of these drawings is on fertility, averting disease, propitiating the dead, and fulfilling the demands of ghost spirits who fill the dream world of the Warlis.

Warli paintings have seen three stages of evolution. In the first stage, paintings were made on walls on auspicious occasions inside huts and were called chauk or mandala. Generally, paintings were made at marriages and in harvest season. In the second stage, Warli artists were given paper and colour. They made paintings on rituals, myths, wisdom stories told by ancestors, man’s origin and their movement. In the third stage, Warli art became commercial and artists are now making paintings according to the tastes of customers. In the rat race of rapid commercialization this small book is a humble effort to document the traditional art of Warlis.

My thanks to the library staff of Indra Gandhi National Centre for Arts, National Museum, India International Center, College of Arts Pittsburgh University and, Art Library of Ohio State University USA. There is little written material on Warli paintings and their world. Most of he substance for this book, I have collected from Warli artists themselves – my special thanks to all of them especially Sh. Anil Chaitya Wangad of Warli village of Maharashtra. My husband Dr Nitish Satyawadi gave valuable suggestions at every stage in writing of this book. I received constant encouragement from my sons Alok and Amit, daughters – in – low, Reena and Swati. My precious grandchildren Ananya, Adwit and Anwita gazed at Warli paintings around me with genuine curiosity and asked innocent little questions. Credit for including many paintings here goes to them.


  Preface v
1. Warlis and Their Paintings 1
2. Religious Beliefs 9
3. Rites and Rituals 17
4. Warli Paintings 23
(i) Three stages of Warli Paintings  
(ii) Myths and Legends  
(iii) Narrative Paintings  
(iv) Contemporary Paintings  
  Conclusion 81
  Glossary 85
  Bibliography 87
  Index 89

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