Warli painting by Jivya Soma Mashe, Thane district, Maharastra, India

Well, the picture is quite familiar. Isn’t it ? It’s WARLI. The famous artform of Maharashtra. Well this is the particular tribal painting which is simply popular and recognized among the common public and of course the art enthusiast.

All the credit of this tribal art goes to the tribal people belonging to the North Sahyadri Range in Maharashtra, India.  Known as the Warli tribe, they forms one of the largest tribes in India. 

Warli art at Borivali Station, Mumbai, Maharashtra


Warli paintings are the finest examples of Indian folk style of paintings. This style particularly flourished in Sahyadri range which constitute Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar,  Mokhada, and Vikramgad of Palghar districts.

Warli tribe is also found in some parts of Gujarat, including Valsad, Dangs, Navsari and Surat Districts, and in the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.

Warli art at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Picture taken by, Nichalp on 28-Jan-2006

This art form originated around 10th century A.D. but first gained recognition in early seventies. The art revolves around the everyday life of the Warli (Varli) tribes. The Warlis speak the Varli language, which has no written form and belongs to the group of Indo-Aryan languages


The traditional culture of Warli is well preserved by the tribal people since ages. Despite being in a close proximity to city dwellings, the community is untouched by modern measures.

Warli is the vivid expression of daily chores and social events of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, used by them to embellish the walls of village houses. Their great respect and fondness towards Mother nature, wildlife and their cattle can be clearly seen in the pictorial form of Warli. Human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting forms the major part of painting.

Warli artists use their clay huts as the backdrop for their paintings, similar to how ancient people used cave walls as their canvases. This art form is simple in comparison to the vibrant paintings of Madhubani and mostly women are engaged in the creation of these paintings.

THE FATHER OF WARLI – Jivya Soma Mashe:

Jivya Soma Mashe (1934-2018) and Balu Mashe, a father-son duo in Thane district has played a great role in making the Warli paintings more popular. They started painting this art on paper and canvas. It is because of their initiative to regain India’s lost art culture, Jivya Soma has been named as the Father of Warli painting.

Warli tribal art form by Jivya Soma Mashe, 2009

The first exhibition of Jivya was held at the Gallery Chemould, Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in 1975 by the initiative of Bhaskar Kulkarni, who first introduced this master to the outside world. His first exhibition outside India was at the Palais de Menton, France in 1976. He has been honored with a number of national and central level awards for his paintings.

He has been awarded with several wards including:

  • National Award for the Tribal Art (1976)
  • Shilp Guru award
  • Prince Claus Award
  • Padma Shree (2011)
Paintings by Jivya Soma Mashe


In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes joins together to form a line. However, in recent times the artists have started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These paintings do not depict mythological characters or images of deities, but the social life. Paintings follow rhythmic and repetitive pattern.

Basically geometric shapes – a circle, a triangle, and a square are used symbolically for manifesting different elements of nature. Like –

  • Circle – represents the sun and the moon
  • triangle – depicts mountains and conical trees
  • square symbolize human invention, like a sacred enclosure, cave or a piece of land.
  • “chauk” or “chaukat” – The central motif in each ritual painting which is square in shape.


This square shaped central motif is of two types –

  • Devchauk – Inside a “Devchauk” is usually a depiction of Palaghata, the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility.
  • Lagnachauk – “Lagna” (wedding) “chauk” is painted by married women known as Suvasini whenever there is a marriage in the village. This is to bring good luck and harmony in the lives of newly married couple. Chauk has Goddess with sun and the moon, a ladder for success in their lives, comb for family harmony.
A photograph of a Warli painting on the wall of a Warli house, depicting a Devchauk at the centre and two Lagnachauks on both the sides.


The central motif in the ritual painting is surrounded by scenes portraying daily chores like hunting, fishing, and farming, and trees and animals. Festivals and dances are common scenes depicted in the ritual paintings.

Painted prayers, Warli Painting, at Sanskriti Kendra Museum, Anandagram, New Delhi.


This special dance form is one of the central aspects in many Warli paintings. The tarpa, a trumpet-like instrument, is played in turns by different village men. Men and women join their hands and move in a circle around the tarpa player. The dancers take a long turn in the audience and try to encircle them for entertainment. The circle formation of the dancers is also said to resemble the circle of life.

Warli painting representing Tarpa dance and circle of life


Palghat Devi” is the marriage god or the mother goddess, a symbol of fertility. She is often depicted in Warli paintings as central motif in ritual paintings. The painting is sacred and without it, the marriage cannot take place. It is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods.


“Kuldevta” (Gods or Godesses) of Warli tribe known as Panchsirya, Narayan, Hiroba and Jhoting are represented in ritual paintings. Marriage is incomplete without the paintings consisting Dhavleri (a lady priest who perform rituals of marriage), Bhagat (a Shaman who invokes deities and is possessed by the gods), Suvasini, Bride and Groom riding a horse.


The authentic Warli paintings are painted in the most simple way one can think of. The materials are the ones that are readily available to the tribal people. The magic is created with such simple tools, which is really adorable.


The inner or outer wall of the hut is the canvas which is made of a mixture of branches, bamboo, reed and stick, finished with the coat of clay and cow dung. The final coat is done with red clay called as Geru which provides red terracotta color to the wall creating  background for the paintings.

Warli wall paintings at SGNP Mumbai by Raju Kasambe.
Paintings by unknown tribal artist.  
Possibly illustrate a temple and two ladies dancing.


The paint is the white pigment made from a mixture of rice flour and water, with gum as a binder. Rice is soaked in water for the whole night and then a thick paste is made out of it using mortar and pestle. The main color is white however, occasionally dots in red and yellow can be used.

Warli wall paintings illustrating a tribal temple, people offering prayers in front of the temple, a bullock cart, and few animals.


A bamboo stick is chewed at the end to give it the texture of a paintbrush. Sometimes fingers or grass twigs are also used by tribal people to draw warli on walls . Walls are painted only to mark special occasions such as weddings, festivals or harvests.

Nakashikam (Warli painting)


Warli painting is now dominated by men. Warli art in its new format is providing an important source of livelihood for many young Warli men. 

Modern Warli paintings are often done on paper incorporating traditional Warli motifs with modern elements such as the bicycle, handbags etc. These tribal paintings have become very popular and are now sold all over the Indian market praising the tribal art in the form of fabrics, shirts, kurtas, sarees, curtains, bedsheets, table runners, in modern cutlery, coffee mugs, coasters and so on.

Their usage in textile and home décor highly raised the demand of warli and thus warli artist in the commercial market. The art is much appreciated by the modern youth which is a thing to be cherished. Warli is well preserved by the art enthusiast and will positively gain much momentum in the coming years.

Varli Painting Varli Community Gujrat India

Warli paintings help us to understand Indian tribal lifestyle from a different perspective altogether. Several initiatives have also been taken up and currently it is being registered under the Intellectual property rights act.

For the last several years, “AYUSH” , a tribal professional group has been making diligent efforts for upliftment of Warli paintings and for the employment generation for Warli artists. It is a social networking platform set up by artists, society, unemployed youth, government, private companies (CSR), etc. Efforts are being made to increase the contact and work of AYUSH, to promote collaborative & constructive approach of Tribal Empowerment by knowledge & skill sharing, from which the artists get their due remuneration for their hard work, propagation of tribal art culture, local employment generation.

RELATED : http://www.adiyuva.in/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warli_painting


IMAGE SOURCE : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page


  1. Indian tribal paintings possess an inimitable sensitivity, as tribal folks possess a passionate awareness, massively varying from the urbanised population. India presents before the world perhaps as sunny a field as any solitary country in the world pregnant with a perfect specimen of all the minute varieties of Oriental life; of Oriental scenery, Oriental nations and Oriental manners, and it is open to the globe to explore these peculiarities to the last degree while enjoying perfectly European security. And tribal paintings cater to such Orientalism, inexhaustible charisma of the “others”; a perfect expression of their life redrawing their passion and mystery.
    Tribal painting is the mirror of the energy of the respective art of various tribal groups. It is a living and changing art form, which changes with time, necessity, environment, memories, global influences and experiences of these people.

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