Warlis are a tribe inhabiting the western parts of India. This ancient tribe is famous for their traditional paintings, revered by all as the ‘Warli Paintings’. Like all other arts, paintings too are formed and influenced by a number of socio-political, cultural and religious aspects. Religion is, in fact, one of the major formative forces that shapes and is evident in the Warli paintings. Warlis are worshippers of nature. This was the only means of self expression, simple yet quaint. A testament to their lifestyle, embroidered with daily life symbols.
Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings. These paintings do not depict mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life. Images of human beings and animals, along with scenes from daily life are created in a loose rhythmic pattern. These tribal paintings of Maharashtra are traditionally done in the homes of the Warlis. They are pretty close to pre-historic cave paintings in execution and usually depict scenes of human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting.They are painted on an austere mud base using one color, white, with occasional dots in red and yellow. This color is obtained from grounding rice into white powder.
The presiding deity of marriage – Palghat – the vegetation deity is worshipped fervently. Palghat is the personification of all the bountiful nature. The Warlis believe the eternal process of birth and death is contained within the womb of the woman and the pot – the boundless container of life, represents it. The goddess Palghat then stands for the pot overflowing with vegetation and life. The cult of the Mother Goddess in all her forms is still prevalent among the Warlis. On all important occasions, the tribals congregate at the Mahalakshmi Hills in Dahanu Taluka, whose conical peak resembling the yoni (female reproductive system), they worship as the mother. Thus Warli women are endowed with special powers. It is only the Savasini (a woman whose husband is alive) is only allowed to do the marriage paintings, and only the dhavleri or the priestess can get couples married.
The Warlis do not worship their gods, in the accepted sense of the word. For them, worship means a great deal of fun, enjoyment, dance, drink and no work at all. Worship to them is not self-abnegation, but self-fulfilment by which the gods are satisfied. During the festivities, sacrifice of a goat or a chicken is made to the Gods, to be later distributed and eaten by those present.
The worldview of the Warlis is best represented by the circle that has neither an end nor a beginning. It is an expanding, all encompassing view of reality, akin to the womb that is capable of endless births. This explains the prevalence of circles in all their paintings. Shatika admires and respects the diverse beliefs in our social fabric.
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