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Warli wonders make a comeback

Trisha Bhattacharya, Jan 6, 2013 17:56 IST

Chronicles on canvas

Mono-coloured, rhythmic, reminiscent of pre-historic cave art, descriptive of changing seasons and forms of nature, Warli paintings are the most treasured heritage of one of the largest tribes in India, the Warlis.

Parts of the northern Thane district, Nashik and Dhule regions of Maharashtra, Gujarat and some union territories are home to these adivasis whose paintings narrate folktales of everyday life.

Not illustrative of any mythological tale, but that of the daily and social activities of the tribe, like hunting, dancing, sowing, harvesting, fishing, etc, these picturesque displays run across surfaces like a panorama of intriguing characters and stories, which take on a three-dimensional appearance. While East Indian art portrays sensuality and Madhubani finds congruence with mythic tales, Warli paintings charm simplistically.

Warlis paint the interiors of their huts with a white paste made out of ground rice, water and glue. The walls are painted with bamboo sticks on occasions like the harvest season and weddings. Although white is mostly the only colour used, red and yellow spots also make an appearance as embellishments on the painting surfaces. As a tradition, savasinis, married women, usually create these artworks. However, with changing times, even men have started painting.

Hieroglyphs, which constitute this pictorial and ritualistic presentation, were discovered sometime during the early 70s. However, the exact origins of the paintings are still unknown, only that, they might have come into being in the 10th century. Circles, representing the sun and the moon; triangles, evocative of mountains or trees; and squares, indicative of a sacred land or envelopment, constitute a palette of shapes that make up the final designs.

A motley of patterns — figurines of animals, birds, trees, thunder, rain, other elements of nature, used in these traditional paintings, showcase the close bond between these tribals and nature. Circular patterns, which seem endless, are depictions of their belief that life is a recurring cycle.

Laganache Chitra is one of the most famous Warli paintings of weddings and rituals, and it comprises a traditional square wedding chauk in the middle, and Goddess Palaghata, a symbol of pots and plants, as the centre. These are drawn on sacred kitchen walls, because without the Goddess’s presence, the wedding is considered inauspicious. The main chauk is supplemented with another chauk, dedicated to God Pancairiya, who is the protector of families. Apart from weddings, occasions like Holi and the arrival of a new born are also feted as pictorial recitals upon walls.

Having gained prominence over a period of time, this art form has also given rise to hybrid versions, like those of intricate Warli art done in the Madhubani style. Rising from the walls of huts, these paintings are now also found on garments, home linen, cutlery, furniture, etc. Imagination and artistic flourish do, at times, supersede or overlap furtherances of the modern world, and Warli paintings prove this.

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