Who are the Warlis?
Out of the 645 tribes settled across various regions of India, Warli is one of the most popular ones. Waral, which means a small piece of tilled land, is where the tribe gets its name from.
While India builds the cultural and religious foundations of a modern society, this indigenous tribe stands as a valuable symbol of ancient times. The Warlis live both in the mountainous and coastal areas of Maharashtra-Gujarat border.
Warlis have their own animistic beliefs, life, customs and traditions.They communicate through their Warli Art which they are pretty proud of. The Warlis speak an unwritten Warli language which belongs to the southern zone of the Indo-Aryan languages.
Most of the Warli Customs and traditions are weaved around Mother Nature. Farming is the major trade here, so there is immense respect towards nature and wildlife. Their life, customs, animistic beliefs and traditions are influenced by the native Hindu culture.
During the sowing season, they worship the god of rains, Narandev, followed by prayers to Himaidevi and Hirva, the local deities. Right before harvesting, prayers are offered to the goddess of fields, Savari. During the reaping season, they worshipthe Vaghdev (the tiger god) and Kaansaari (Corn-Goddess) and danced in joy!
If there is a marriage, then Palaghata, the goddess of fertility is worshipped. The entire village gathers to celebrate the joyous occasion. Interestingly, male gods are unusual among the Warlis.
Dhumsa Dance, Gauri Dance, Kambadu dance, Tarpa and Dhol Dance are some of the vibrant dance forms that adorn this tribe.
Warli Music and Art Festival
Warlis also have their own ways of celebrating their festivals, music and arts.
Tarpa, a traditional dance, is a rhythmic swaying folk dance around an ancient instrument, called Tarpa. Tarpa is a trumpet-like instrument, played in turns by men and women while they perform the Tarpa dance. The formation of the dancers in this dance form is said to be a resemblance to the cycle of life.
The Tarpa instrument is made up of a bamboo and gourd. The tribal folk themselves make this instrumentlocally. There are two bamboo pipes, one is called the female pipe, which produces treble and another one is male, which creates the bass. The custom is that a musician has to make his own instrument and not play one made by another. Therefore, every Tarpa instrument is as unique as the individual who makes it.
The Warli community celebrates the festival of lights, Diwali with great enthusiasm. They call it Barashinstead of Diwali. They also celebrate a Bhawada festival and the Kali Puja after the harvesting season.
Warlis dwelled in the Western coast of Northern Maharashtra. You can still find them living in the Dahanu and Talasaritalukas of Palghar.
Marathi, Gujarati, Sanskrit and an Indo-Aryan dialect (mixture of Khandeshi, Bhili and Marathi) are the languages widely used by the Warlis for communication.
With the need for protective living, the Warlis also believed in conforming to the invincible power of the law of nature. They used medical plants as a disinfectant for their huts. Cow dung is used as flooring, while the Karvi (soft stem of the Strobilantes, callosus, and Nees plant) and supple bamboo were used to make the mud walls of their 400 to 700 square foot homes. The roofs were made of palm leaves and paddy straws. You’d be surprised to know their dual benefit – during the summer it keeps the interiors cool, and during the monsoon it could withstand rainwater.
Warlis adorn comfortable and ethnic clothing. Men wear a thin loin cloth and a turban, while women gracefully drape colourful knee-length saris. On special occasions women make catchy hair-dos. When it comes to food, simplicity has always been the key for Warlis. Their staple diet consists of rice. Since fishing, farming and hunting are their main sources of food; they eat fish, meat, fruits, roots, bulbs and other nutritious pulses.
The Warlis communicate in a purely verbal language called Warli and they take great pride in their art. The ritual paintings are usually done inside the huts; while, the wall paintings are done only for special occasions such as weddings or harvests. Earlier, only Suwasinis (Married woman whose husband is alive) used to make these paintings. Picture them making a mixture of branches, earth and cow dung to make a red ochre-coloured background for the wall paintings inside their huts. They use only white paint, which is made up of rice paste, gum and water that would be used to detail the human and animal figures as well as nature setting. Can you guess what they use as their pen and brush? A bamboo stick chewed at the end! The colours used in paintings are made from various natural elements in the jungle. For instance, Geru is made from red earth and green is prepared from leaves.
Warli Symbolic Art
A circle, triangle and square are the basic graphic vocabulary that form the iconic Warli art.Here, the circle is symbolic of the sun and moon, while the triangle represents mountains and pointed trees, and the square is symbolic of human dynamism.
Now, the central motive in each ritual painting is the square, known as the ‘Chauk’ or ‘Chaukat’, which are of two types: Devchauk and Lagnachauk. Ritual paintings usually have scenes portraying hunting, fishing and farming, festivals and dances, trees and animals and stories from Ramayan and Mahabharat.
The Warlis believein the balance of the universe, which is why both the human and animal bodies are represented by two triangles joined at the tip. Their paintings exhibit their compassion towards all living beings, big or small, that have become an indispensable part of their life. For the Warlis, painting is of spiritual importance and not just an artistic recreation.
How did it become so popular?
If there’s one person who’s responsible for popularising the Warli tribal art form, it is undoubtedly Jivya Soma Mashe. In 1970, there was a radical change in the way Warli art was looked at when Jivya and his son Sadashiv started to paint for artistic pursuits instead of rituals.
His unique and powerful imagination came to life on paper and canvas. With every stroke, dot and line of detail that he added to his everyday tribal life depictions, one knew that his paintings would come to life with a sense of true movement. He celebrated the little simple things of daily tribal life that helped the world get a deeper understanding of it.
“There are human beings, birds, animals, insects, and so on. Everything moves, day and night. Life is movement" - Jivya Soma Mashe