Warli Painting - a 4000 year old art form celebrating nature

Neha Tarte
Neha Tarte
Neha is a commerce student who is passionate about indigenous peoples' issues, art, crafts, and culture.‍

Art has been a means of communication for centuries. The art and craft traditions of India display the country's heritage, with a history of more than five thousand years. Warli painting is one of the tribal art forms. This painting is a beautiful folk art of Maharashtra. The word "Warli" is derived from "Warla," which means "a small piece of tilled land."

The painting is a vibrant depiction of human beings and animals, along with the Warli tribe's everyday and social events, created in a loose rhythmic pattern. The artwork was primarily concerned with the theme of mother nature and its elements. It is painted white on mud walls and created by tribal women. But how did this form of painting come into existence today?

Let's have a look at this fantastic tribal painting and discover more about it!


Warli Tribe

Amidst majestic mountains and lush green forests, you can find the Warlis, an indigenous group of people who have lived in the Thane District of Maharashtra for centuries. They were originally hunters, but due to deforestation and restrictions on forest usage, rice cultivation has become their principal source of income. The Warli speak the Varli language, which is classified as Konkani and has some Marathi influence. Warli women wear toe rings and necklaces as an indication of marital status.



Historians believe that the Warli tradition can be traced back to as far as the Neolithic period between 2,500 BC and 3,000 BC. They construct square bamboo huts coated with mud and cow dung. The mud walls are painted during religious rituals and marriage ceremonies. Their mural paintings are similar to those found between 500 and 10,000 BC at the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters in Madhya Pradesh. Previously, warli paintings were exclusively done on the walls of houses. This art form was mostly done by married women known as savasana, who used to paint Lagna chauk whenever a marriage occurred in the village, which was done to bring good luck and harmony to the newly married couple's lives. By crushing the soaked rice grains into flour, Savasana prepares flour for "chauk." A chauk is made using a stick of grass called bhari and rice flour. 

“The Warli never worship man-made idols. People of the village would pick up small rocks that spoke with them in positive times. These rocks would be kept under trees and they would then become their place of worship.”


Warli painting characteristics

  • Warli's artwork is created with the help of geometric shapes like a circle, a triangle, and a square.
  • Circles and triangles are inspired by nature. The sun and moon are represented by a circle in the painting.
  • Crooked lines are used to depict human figures, animal figures, houses, crops, etc.
  • Mountains and pointed trees give rise to the triangle.
  • The square is a human creation that represents a holy enclosure or a plot of land.


Warli painting themes

  1. Devchauk motif 
  1. Lagnchauk motif 
  1. Theme for Tarpa Dance
  1. Human figures
  1. Gods and goddesses
  1. Birds and animals' motif
  1. Nagpanchami festival motif
  1. Theme of the Holi festival
  1. Marriage ceremony motif 
  1. Reaping the season motif


The process of creating the painting 

  1. The background of the painting is
  • A thin solution is extracted by adding water to the cow dung.
  • It is then mixed with gum, which works as a binder.
  • This paste is placed on a muslin cloth, which serves as the painting's background, and after that, it is left to dry for one to two hours, depending on the size of the cloth.


  1. How is the white color prepared? 
  • Rice grains are rinsed and excess water is drained before being crushed into powder, and then they are left to dry in the sun for 15 minutes.
  • Then this powder is filtered and only the finer particles are taken further. 
  • Some amounts of water are combined with the powder to create a thin paste that is then used as paint.


Who made warli painting famous?

Jivya Soma Mashe made a groundbreaking move when he began to create Warli paintings regularly and not as part of a ritual. He was the first Warli artist to start painting on canvas in 1971; earlier, it was practiced by married women only. He was honored by the Padma Shri in 2011 and is widely acknowledged for popularizing Warli paintings in India and abroad. He passed away on May 15, 2018, and now his eldest son, Sadashiv Mashe, continues to practice the art form. 

Why is Warli painting popular? 

  • The art is popular in India and abroad because of its simplicity, use of geometric shapes, use of classic white on red, and the requirement of a minimum amount of material to create a masterpiece.
  • Maharashtrians have sentimental attachments to Warli paintings since they've seen them on the walls of numerous rural schools, houses, and highways long before they became famous. 


  • The artists have customised their art forms in order to adapt to market demands. 
  • Artists have adopted other forms of creativity, as earlier Warli paintings were painted on walls or muslin fabric, but now they are painted on t-shirts, accessories, lined bed sheets, mobile covers, etc. 
  • Warli's paintings can be copied easily using printing processes, which has boosted the artist's client base.
  • Although printed Warli paintings and motifs are less authentic, they come in a variety of colours and fabrics.


Warli painting has evolved in metropolitan areas, particularly in the clothing and fashion industries. The art is no longer restricted to the typical white-on-red design but is now accessible in a wide range of colors.

  • Warli painting and Indian fashion.

The representation of modern elements like bicycles, auto-rickshaws, and roadways is something adopted by today’s Warli artists. The modern symbols have generated a contemporary atmosphere that appeals to a wider audience.


Tribal Cultural Intellectual Property:

The Warli tribal community owns the cultural intellectual property rights of Warli painting and has established a non-profit organisation called the Warli Art Foundation to promote this art form.


Interesting Fact 

  • Warli design and paintings are generally not used on footwear because it is considered an auspicious art form for the tribes.