India has a rich tradition of folk arts the custodians of which are the many tribes that live in the interiors of various states. Warli painting, named after the tribe that evolved it, is one such highly-popular art-form. The Warli tribals are forest-dwellers but have made a gradual transition towards being a pastoral community. They reside in the West coast of Northern Maharastra. A large concentration is found in the Thane district, off Mumbai. A little backward economically, they still maintain their indigenous customs and traditions.
The growing popularity and commercialisation of the Warli painting has seen the uplift of many tribals and they are increasingly becoming integrated with the mainstream. Their marriage traditions are unique to their culture and are a subject matter of avid interest for anthropology students.
The Warli style of painting evolved from its mural form. Even today, it is a tradition with the Warlis to decorate the mud walls of the huts with paintings made in rice paste. The painting on paper is a fall-out of commercialisation.
The Warlis indulge in this activity during festivals, on community occasions such as harvesting or rituals such as weddings. They draw inspiration from everyday lives for their themes. Thus, a typical Warli painting will have a village landscape with farms, trees and domestic animals. Farmers cultivating land and marriage ceremonies are other oft-repeated themes.
Nowadays, these paintings are made on hand-made paper, usually green or brown, the colour of mud-walls with or without the cow-dung, with white paint. The paintings are simple line drawings, mere outlines with little or no detailing. The human figures in a Warli painting are simple, yet stylish - easy even for a child to master.
While, traditionally the paintings were exclusively farm scenes with huts, off-late modern elements have started creeping in. Cityscapes with its vehicles, schools and other contemporary themes are making way to keep pace with the world outside their community - a bit of a sell-out to draw attention, possibly. But largely, these paintings with traditional themes are still a big draw, both domestically and internationally. These paintings are not too expensive, but some artistes who have made a name for themselves do come up with top draw exclusive paintings, which may be a little steeply-priced.
In Maharashtra, many of its tourism buses and offices are adorned with Warli paintings giving it a status of an official symbol. A lot of merchandise - T-shirts, coasters, linen come with Warli designs and motifs and do brisk sales through exhibitions and tourist outlets. Many schools in Maharashtra take workshops in Warli painting for children. You will find Warli paintings on walls of some five-star hotels in Mumbai, too.