Warli painting is a traditional art and famous folk painting form that originated in the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, India.

So, its simplicity and unique style, are by the use of basic geometric shapes like circles, triangles, and squares, along with dots and lines.

The paintings depict scenes from daily life, nature, and rituals of the Warli people.

 Key features of Warli’s painting

Style and Technique-Warli painting

Warli paintings are typically done on a dark background using white pigment.

The paintings are on mud walls or canvas using a bamboo stick or a brush from natural materials.

The artist begins by making basic geometric shapes, which are then filled with intricate patterns and designs.

Subject Matter-Warli painting

The subjects of Warli’s paintings revolve around the life and traditions of the Warli tribe.

They often depict scenes of farming, hunting, fishing, festivals, and dances. The paintings also represent elements of nature, such as trees, birds, and animals.

Symbolism-Warli painting

Warli’s paintings are deeply symbolic.

The circle represents the sun and the moon, while the triangle signifies mountains and trees.

Humans are in stick-like figures, usually in a rhythmic circular or spiral arrangement, holding hands in a gesture of unity and togetherness.

Dots and lines are to add detailing and texture.

Ritual Significance-Warli painting

Warli paintings have strong ties to the rituals and customs of the Warli tribe.

They are a form of worship during harvest festivals and other important occasions.

The paintings are to invoke the power of the gods and bring prosperity to the community.

Contemporary Adaptations-Warli painting

While traditionally done on mud walls, Warli painting has also its way onto paper, fabric, and other modern mediums. Contemporary artists have experimented with different colors and styles while still maintaining the essence of the art form.



History of Warli painting

The history of Warli painting dates back to ancient times, with its roots in the indigenous Warli tribe of Maharashtra, India.

The Warli people have a rich cultural heritage, and their paintings have been passed down through generations as a form of storytelling and expression.

The exact origins of Warli painting are not well-documented, as the art form has been practiced for centuries within the tribal community.

However, it is to have emerged around 2,500 BCE or even earlier. The art form gained wider recognition and popularity in the mid-20th century when it caught the attention of the art community and researchers.

The Warli tribe predominantly resides in the rugged hills and forests of the Sahyadri mountain range in Maharashtra, which has influenced their art. The paintings reflect the symbiotic relationship between the Warli people and nature. The tribe’s close connection with their environment is evident in their art, which often depicts scenes of farming, hunting, fishing, and everyday village life.

Warli paintings were initially created on the walls of the Warli homes using natural materials like cow dung and rice paste. These paintings were an integral part of their rituals and cultural ceremonies, particularly during harvest festivals like the “Tarpa Dance.” The circular and spiral formations of the figures in the paintings are believed to represent the cycle of life and the interconnectedness of all beings.

It was not until the 1970s that Warli’s painting gained recognition beyond the tribal community.

Jivya Soma Mashe, a Warli artist, played a crucial role in popularizing the art form.

Mashe’s efforts led to the establishment of several cooperatives and organizations that promoted Warli painting, providing a platform for artists to showcase their work and earn a livelihood.



The tradition of Warli painting

The tradition of Warli painting is deeply rooted in the cultural and social fabric of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, India. The art form has been practiced by the tribe for generations and holds great significance in their rituals, ceremonies, and daily life. Here are some key aspects of the tradition of Warli painting:

Oral Tradition

Warli painting has been traditionally passed down orally from one generation to another. There is no written documentation or formal training involved. The knowledge and techniques are shared through storytelling and practical demonstrations, ensuring the preservation and continuity of the art form within the community.

Ritualistic Context

Warli paintings are intimately connected to the tribal rituals and ceremonies of the Warli people. They are an integral part of festivals, weddings, harvest celebrations, and other significant events. The paintings are believed to invoke the blessings of the gods and ancestors, ensuring prosperity and well-being for the community.

Communal Creation

Warli painting is a collective activity within the tribe. It is often created as a community effort during festive occasions. Men, women, and children come together to paint the walls of the village huts or designated spaces. The act of painting becomes a form of bonding, celebration, and cultural expression for the Warli community.

Symbolism and Narrative

Warli paintings are rich in symbolism and narrative. The simple geometric shapes and figures represent elements from the natural and social environment. Circles depict the sun and moon, triangles symbolize mountains and trees, and lines represent fields or rivers. The paintings often depict scenes of farming, hunting, dancing, and village life, conveying stories, myths, and the customs of the tribe.

Use of Natural Materials

Traditionally, Warli paintings were created using natural materials sourced from the local environment. The base for the paintings was prepared using a mixture of cow dung and mud. White pigment, derived from rice paste or limestone, was used to paint the intricate patterns and figures on the dark background. These natural materials not only added to the aesthetics but also reflected the tribe’s close relationship with nature.

Spiritual and Social Significance

Warli paintings hold spiritual and social significance for the Warli tribe. They are considered sacred and believed to protect the homes from evil spirits. The paintings also reinforce social cohesion and a sense of belonging within the community, as they depict the shared history, values, and traditions of the tribe.

The tradition of Warli painting continues to thrive today, with artists preserving the authenticity of the art form while also adapting to contemporary mediums and styles. It serves as a cultural symbol and a means of cultural identity for the Warli tribe, connecting them to their roots and promoting awareness and appreciation of their unique heritage.


The painting technique of Warli’s painting

The traditional technique of Warli painting involves a distinct process and materials. Here is an overview of the painting technique used in Warli art:

Surface Preparation

Warli paintings are traditionally on mud walls, cow dung-plastered surfaces, or on canvas using natural materials. The surface is by applying a base layer made of a mixture of cow dung and mud. This provides a smooth and texture background for the paintings.

Drawing the Outline

The artist begins by drawing the outline of the figures and shapes using a bamboo stick or a brush made from natural materials.

The figures in Warli’s painting are simple geometric shapes like circles, triangles, and squares.

The outline drawn using a white pigment, which contrasts with the dark background.

Filling the Shapes

Once the outlines draw, the artist fills the shapes with intricate patterns and designs.

The filling is using the same white pigment, usually derived from rice paste or limestone. The patterns can include dots, lines, triangles, and other geometric motifs. The artist may create repetitive patterns to add texture and visual interest to the painting.

Symbolic Depictions

Warli paintings are for their symbolic representations. The artist uses specific shapes and figures to convey meanings. Circles often represent the sun and the moon, while triangles signify mountains, trees, or the goddess Palaghata. The stick-like human figures, usually depicted in groups, signify unity and social harmony.

Linear Composition

Warli paintings follow a linear composition, with the figures arranged in a rhythmic and continuous manner. The figures often form circular or spiral patterns, representing the cycle of life and the interconnectedness of all beings. The linear arrangement creates a sense of movement and flow within the painting.

Minimalistic Color Palette

Traditional Warli paintings predominantly use a monochromatic color palette. The paintings are primarily in white against a dark background. The use of white pigment on the dark surface creates a striking contrast and highlights the intricate patterns and figures. However, contemporary adaptations of Warli’s painting may include additional colors to add variation and experimentation.



Type of Warli painting


Here are a few notable types of Warli paintings:

Ritualistic Warli Painting

This type of Warli painting focuses on depicting the rituals and ceremonies of the Warli tribe. It often portrays scenes from harvest festivals, weddings, and other significant cultural events. These paintings showcase the tribal customs, dances, and religious practices of the community.

Nature-themed Warli Painting

Nature holds great importance in the lives of the Warli people, and this type of painting emphasizes their deep connection with the natural world. It showcases elements such as trees, animals, birds, and landscapes. These paintings often symbolize the harmony between humans and nature and the reliance of the tribe on the environment for their sustenance.

Social Life and Village Scenes

This type of Warli painting depicts scenes from everyday village life. It showcases the activities and occupations of the Warli people, such as farming, fishing, hunting, and gathering. These paintings provide glimpses into the social fabric of the tribe, showcasing their sense of community, cooperation, and celebration of life.

Mythological and Spiritual Warli Painting

Some Warli paintings delve into mythological narratives and spiritual beliefs. These artworks may depict stories from Hindu mythology or portray deities worshipped by the Warli tribe. They convey the religious and spiritual aspects of the community, showcasing their faith and reverence for the divine.

Contemporary and Experimental Warli Painting

In recent years, contemporary artists have been exploring new forms and styles within Warli painting. They may experiment with different colors, abstract designs, and non-traditional mediums while still drawing inspiration from traditional Warli art. These contemporary adaptations allow for artistic expression, innovation, and the fusion of Warli painting with modern artistic practices.


It’s worth noting that while these categories provide a broad framework, Warli’s painting as a whole encompasses a wide range of themes and subjects. Artists often express their creativity by combining different elements and themes, resulting in unique and diverse representations of Warli art.

Warli’s painting has gained significant recognition and popularity both in India and internationally.


Today, Warli painting has transcended its tribal roots and has become a celebrated art form globally.

It is in art galleries and museums around the world, attracting both art enthusiasts and collectors. While the traditional form of Warli painting still thrives, contemporary artists have also experimented with the art form by incorporating new techniques, colors, and themes, keeping the essence of Warli art alive while adapting to modern times.

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