Warli Paintings

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Warli Paintings: A Hidden Faith. In conversation with Subhash Nathu Sutar

George, Ligi


Warli has been described as the art of the living. Unlike other folk traditions, it depicts not epics nor mythologies but the daily struggles and successes of the warli people, their lives dictated by climatic and seasonal changes. Austere in appearance, of stark palette, the paintings are neither. They are joyous and energetic, a celebration of life.

Mr. Subhash Nathu Sutar learnt the art from his father, Mr. Nathu Devu Sutar. Theirs is one of the few houses in their village still employed in making warli art. Shri Nathu Devu Sutar has achieved national and international recognition for the finesse of his paintings. At 21, Subhash has always been enamoured by this art which has been practiced in his family for generations. But recognising the lack of income that can be generated solely by painting he is pursuing his Bachelors degree in Marathi and Communicative English from Vadkun College in Karndikar in Maharashtra.

As an artist Shri Subash Nathu Sutar, known for his unique designs, has been invited to fairs in Nagpur, Hydrabad, Pune and Delhi to exhibit his art.

Warli is the name of a tribe which resides in Thane district in Maharashtra, north of Mumbai. The main villages where this tribe is located are Dahanu, Talasari, Mokhada, Vada and Palghara. Artist Subash N. Sutar’s village Raithali is 2 km from Dahanu (Tal) in Maharashtra.

People in the Raitali are primarily agriculturists and thus their paintings are influenced by the seasonal cycle. They worship Nath Dev, the God of Agriculture, Hiranya Dev, the imperishable, referring to Lord Brahma and Palghata Devi, deity of fertility.

It is customary among the people of Raithali to make Warli painting on the walls of the house before marriage. These paintings are executed by artists, traditionally restricted to women, specially trained to create these “Shaadi Ka Chowks”. The paintings, using symbols, highlight key ceremonies like the ‘baaraat’ (when the bridegroom reaches the place where the ceremony is taking place) and ‘puja’ (ritual of worship) of the wedding.


The warli women called Savasini meaning married women whose husbands are alive, paint a chowk or a square on their walls of their kitchen as they believe this is the most sacred wall in the house and therefore where the gods are placed.

Before painting the wall surface is cleaned and polished, first with cowdung followed by Geru Mitti (red mud). The wall is polished by hand. With the help of a brush, the painter paints ‘Shaadi Ka Chowk’ on the polished wall and white colours are specially used for this. Apart from painting on the wall they are even drawn on clothes.

The pictures are in a square or round format. For the warlis, life is cyclic repeating itself eternally. Circles best represent the art of warli, which has neither an end nor a beginning. At all occasions – birth, marriage, and death they draw circles, symbol of Mother Goddess. Apart from wedding ceremonies warli paintings depict the stories Dhann Ki Mela, Manir Ki Puja, which pictorialize and narrate special and specific occasions. Apart from these, there are pictures which show poverty, suffering of the human being and animals, which the people experienced during the times of flood and other crisis situations.

Today, warli artists are broadening their palette for paintings created outside the traditional context, especially for exhibitions. New demand and new markets are dictating new designs with suggestions being made by designers or from those working with warli artists who exist outside the traditional space from within which warli art emerged and was sustained by.

Availability of Raw Materials
The material for Warli painting is bought from the near by market in Raithali. In the earlier days people used rice powder solution and brushes made from bamboo sticks which are now being replaced by poster colours and the polished brush. There are three different varieties of sand, Geru Mitti which is red in colour used for polishing the wall or cloth before making the Shaddi ka Chowk, Kale Mitti, black in colour, and the last one is in ‘cow dung powder’ for dark green in colour. The black sand and the Geru sand is brought from the market and per packet cost Rs. 10 to 15. For making paintings on cloth, a typical Latha cloth is used.
Making A Living
Subash gets more orders at the time of marriage seasons which lasts from November to January. For a Shaadi Ka Chowk he charges between Rs 450 to Rs. 600. The cost varies upon the size and the design of the picture.Apart from this, warli paintings have huge markets at the time of fairs. Subhash believes that greater awareness and knowledge of warli has increased demand for them. His dream is that one day there will exist an international market for warli art. This will, in his opinion, also sustain the tradition which is suffering the decline of practitioners as fewer members of the new generation want to learn and sustain themselves by the art.Warli painting is a combination of cultural heritage, tradition and the art of living.
Mr. Subash Nathu Sutar can be contacted at:Subhash N. Sutar
Raitali, (Patilpada),
Post.Ganjad, Tal-Dahanu




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