Warli is the name of the largest tribe to be found on the northern outskirts of Bombay, in Western India and extends up to the Gujarat border. The origin of the Warlis is yet unknown and no records of this art are found, but many scholars and folklorists believe that it can be traced to as early as the tenth century AD.
This Warli art was eventually rediscovered in the early seventies, and became popular for its unique simplicity and fervour for life. Despite being in such close proximity of the largest metropolis in India, Warli tribesmen shun all influences of modern urbanization. Warli Art was first discovered in the early seventies. when the practice of embellishing the walls of the house was the only means of transmitting folklore to a general populace not versed in the written word. In many important respects, this highly ritualistic art form differed greatly from the folk and tribal art known to urban India until then. It did not narrate mythological stories in vibrant tones nor did it contain the robust sensuality of the paintings found in Eastern India.
Usually the Warli paintings are done during the marriage ceremony and they call them as Lagnace citra meaning marriage paintings. The painting is sacred and without it the marriage cannot take place. Their respect for nature is from the most gigantic to the smallest creature and plant. The figures and traditional motives are repetitive and highly symbolic. They communicate through their paintings and their life style and passion for nature are depicted with utmost details. Triangular humans and animals with stick-like hands and legs, geometrical designs with rows of dots and dashes are drawn on the mud walls of the huts of Warlis.
In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes make one line. The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. From the depths of the painting spring a variety of activities with humans, animals, and trees. The subjects found in these paintings are wedding scenes, various animals, birds, trees, men, women, children, descriptive harvest scene, group of men dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, and many more. One of the famous Warli paintings is the marriage chowkatt – a painting made at the time of marriage. The Warli women called savasini meaning married women whose husbands are alive, paint a chauk or a square on the walls of their kitchen.
Warli paintings are strangely ascetic, unlike other folk paintings of India which consist of myriad primary colors in such abundance. Instead they are painted in white on an austere brown surface decorated with occasional dots in red and yellow. This first impression of sobriety is countered by the ebullience of the themes depicted. These are remarkable in their intensely social nature. They look outwards, capturing the life around and by implication, the humanness of living. Men, animals and trees form a loose, rhythmic pattern across the entire sheet. This results in a light swinging and swirling movement, describing the day to day activities of the Warlis. In doing so, they seem to be seeking communication among themselves and with the outside world. It is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods.
The Warlis do not narrate mythology or any great epic. Simply painted on mud, charcoal and cow dung based surface with rice paste for the colour white, the art form deals with themes that narrate their social lifestyle and activities. The loose rhythmic movement that each painting suggests adds life to the paintings.