Students of Vidhya Niketan Public School revisit the ancient Warli art form

In the 10th Century AD, married women of the Warli tribe who lived along the border of Maharashtra and Gujarat, ground rice into paste and painted the stories of their lives on the mud walls of their homes.Through circles, triangles, squares and slanted lines, they spoke of the rising sun, mountains and valleys, village festivals, local cultivation and, most importantly, the harmony they shared. Eleven hundred years later, 70 students from Vidhya Niketan Public School revisited the ancient art and painted everyday incidents in the Warli style on recycled paper.

“To create art, it’s important to understand what it is first. So, at the outset, we teach the theory behind Warli art, encourage students to research further online and, finally, create their own pieces,” says art teacher Pinky Khurana, who guided the project.

“The word Warli means ‘piece of land’,” says Yeshwin G. Raju from Class IX. “So, even modern-day Warli art is painted over a rich brown that symbolises earth.” His creation shows villagers cooking for a community surrounded by quiet trees. “Unlike today, those were peaceful days with no pollution and people lived in harmony with Nature.”

Drawn from Nature

Nature is central to Warli art, explains Pinki. “The circle represents the sun and the moon, and the triangle represents mountain peaks,” says Nitish Saraf, who painted white dancing Warlis against a deep blue backdrop. His women hold hands, as women in most Warli paintings do, invoking the unity they lived in. “The people in Warli art are always in the midst of some action. So movements, such as dancing, are shown using slanted lines. Straight lines are very rare,” he says.

Reviving Warli

Warli art was revived in the 1970s by Maharashtrian artist Jivya Soma Mashe whose works met with commercial success. While traditionally, Warli painting used only white and a background colour, today’s adaptations are more vibrant, says Olivya Paramasivam, Class VIII, whose painting has an earthy base but is bordered by orange.Rahul R., Class VIII, has modernised Warli even further by using the technique to paint Deepavali festivities, alive with firecrackers, dancing and music.

To retain the eco-friendly nature of Warli art, the students have painted their pieces on recycled paper. “We mix one part glue with three parts water, brush that on old newspapers and then thicken them with tissue paper. They are then dabbed over by a sponge dipped in poster paint,” says Rahul. The result is handmade paper in various colours, the market equivalent of which costs over Rs. 40 per sheet.

“I wanted to teach children that we must always choose the environment-conscious and less expensive options available even if they take more time and effort,” says Pinki. Creating thin lines with paint brushes has also improved children’s handwriting and concentration, she adds. Most importantly, this is a fun way to learn of a long gone creative people say the students.