The Warlis or Varlis are an indigenous tribe living in mountainous as well as coastal areas of Maharashtra and Gujarat. They speak an unwritten Varli language which belongs to the southern zone of the Indo-Aryan languages.
Inside Warli Art
The wall paintings by the Warlis use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square. The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature – the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived from mountains and pointed trees. The central motive in each ritual painting is the square, known as the “chauk” or “chaukat”, mostly of two types: Devchauk and Lagnacha Chauk.
Devchauk (God’s Square): It is made with an outline of a square drawn on the inside of the house wall. They start filling up the squarish frame towards inside from these four lines with geometrical strips. In the corners, you find figures of the moon, the sun, a comb, a ladder, the tarpa (a wind musical instrument) and ghangli (a string instrument). In the center of the Devchauk, we find Palaghata, the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility. Other characters in the traditional painting are Pancha Sirya Dev, the five headed god and the headless warrior, who is drawn either in a standing position or riding a horse. Pancha Sirya Dev is the archaic symbol of the cosmic cycle of life and death.
Lagnacha Chauk (Marriage Square): In this painting a decorative square is drawn and in its centre a suhasinis (married women) draw a horse on which the bride, groom and groom’s sister is shown sitting. Around the horse are the dancers, musicians and dhavelris (women who perform the wedding).
The Tarpa Dance: One of the distinct characteristic of Warlis is their love for music, dance and liquor. They have been dancing to the tune of the tarpa (a wind musical instrument) for centuries. The tarpa is a long protruding, phallic shape instrument made by the Warlis themselves and its size varies from one to six feet. It is considered to be an instrument given to the Warlis by Narandeva itself.
Traditionally, the Tarpa dance is performed by youngsters while elderly people just watch it. The dancers form a circle around the tarpa player and move in an anticlockwise direction – never turning their back to the Tarpa. This is so because the Warlis believe that cosmic forces move anticlockwise.
On Diwali, the festival of lights, as the lamps are lit and firecrackers go off, the Tarpa, the Warli pipe is used to summon young couples of the village to dance in a ring. It is a merry-go-round of light and sound and festivity. The Tarpa dance is also one of the important themes of Warli paintings.
The central motive in all these ritual paintings is surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing and farming, festivals and dances, trees and animals. Human and animal bodies are represented by two triangles joined at the tip; the upper triangle depicts the trunk and the lower triangle the pelvis. Their precarious equilibrium symbolizes the balance of the universe, and of the couple.
The pared down pictorial language is matched by an equally spare technique. The ritual paintings are usually done inside the huts. The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth and cow dung, making a Red Ochre background for the wall paintings. The Warli use only white for their paintings; the white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binding. The ‘paintbrush’ is a bamboo stick chewed at the end to make it as supple as a paintbrush.
The wall paintings are created mostly for special occasions such as weddings or harvests.
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