Friday, 6 October 2006

Warli Housing and Art

Warli Housing and Art
by Remigius de Souza

“The concept of social art culminated in due course in the ugly Bauhaus movement, than in demonicSoviet realism and nearer home the Brutalist school of architecture in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, the omnipresent monument to the machine age at the service of ever-efficient capitalist economy” (Papworth, Marcelle. ‘Book Review of ‘Against Art and Artists’ by Jean Gimpel, Fourth World Review, No. 50, 1992, UK)
DUE TO THEIR WALL PAINTINGS, the attention of the urban elite has recently turned to the Warli tribe recently. There is some documentation also. All these remain currently at information level in fashion. Some have started selling their art in the city market to boost Warli’s economy? Some lament on the imitation of Warli paintings by art graduates. One finds their art imitated and reproduced in stationary, greeting cards, calendars, textile, packaging papers in the name of ethnic designs, or as a crude imitation on the tourist buses, or in the ugly display organised by the ruling class on the floats to entertain the crowds, during Republic Day [26th January] display parade of arms and armed forces on the boulevards of power.

Warli painting is the domain of women. The urbanite, however, have brought in and initiated and encouraged the males to make so-called Warli paintings for the urban market. This is eventually going to develop male chauvinism of the civilized world, which is out to destroy the tribal culture in India.

Art, to a Warli alike other tribes is not for the sake of art, for trade, investment, auction, connoisseurship… as treated by the urban elite. Art is intrinsic part of life of individual, community, habitat, and as ritual in culture. In different regions different mediums flourished: bamboo, terracotta, metalwork, painting, dance, singing, music, archery, farming, house building etc. For every child house – home – is a school of art. Every household emerges as an entity in unity of the collective with character or ethics, yet unique.

Rangoli on Mumbai's Pavement

A painting on a wall, ‘RangoliAlpanaKolam’(2) on the floor fade away in time. The house too goes back to earth. In Holi festival a tree is burnt. This is also reflected in their ‘Vaghdev’ – tiger god. As generations pass away, the older stature of the pair is removed and thrown out of its place and a new one is placed. The last one takes the place of the discarded statue. It is the cycle of death and birth.

Painting, Rangoli, house, tree, Vaghdev’s statue… will regenerate in the cycles of death and birth. In the destruction there is beginning of new life – regeneration. The mud then is the potentiality of being lotus [Acharya Rajanish].

The art is the part of his religion, culture and person. The tribal lives the religion not by preaching, institutionalising and scriptures, neither by following. He has assimilated them in his person, in his being that which he is part of the cosmos…Truth – ‘Sat’. He does not need to collect and accumulate [wealth]. He has awakened conscience, which he has achieved through living in harmony with nature. By living in communion with nature he has reached heightened consciousness – ‘Cit’. Their painting, Rangoli, dance, singing, music, house, is prayer, thanksgiving, and celebration – Joy – ‘Anand’. His religion is not merely a ritual or magic, as is popularly interpreted by the scholars.

His ‘poverty’- by popular definition – is (was) not a residue of industrialization. His community is not that of communism, which is a by-product of industrial revolution. We do not find gurus, prophets, prostitution, scriptures, gospels, and temples among them. His ‘Vagdev’ stands in the open landscape under the canopy of the sky. The tribal is in the state of Bliss. His first and the last guru is nature.

Why Warli is Warli? Warli is so close to mega-city of Bombay [now Mumbai], yet so remote?

This will always be beyond the perception of the ‘Post-historic man’, unless he changes his way of life.

In Warli house, as in his – or her – painting the permanence is reduced unlike the advance societies. Civilization struggled to create monuments of permanent nature. Someone has truly said, “Wherever civilization walked, it left a desert behind.” This situation has reached to a peak during the epoch of industrial civilization in the 20th century to leave behind greater monument than pyramids, to leave behind permanent debris of secular architecture. In contrast the Warli’s ‘Vaghdev’ stands in the open awaiting regeneration.

The civilizations have created great religions, great libraries, great wars, and population in great numbers. But we have also seen two of the human species – the rulers and the tribal have not grown in numbers, because the rulers kill each other, and the tribal live in the state of Bliss. Basic needs of the civilized have grown to limitless numbers of items of consumption, where matters of soul – spirituality – is another item of consumption, through books, films, audio-video cassettes of discourse by the gurus.

There are no criteria to measure the spiritual attainment of any person; nor spirituality could be institutionalised. We have known that spiritual attainment the arts – poetry, music, dance, sculpture, architecture etc. too are elevated; that even hunger is raised to the higher level by fasting. But ‘silence’ is supreme among all spiritual expressions (!) or attainment that is where Warli is.

Tribal’s house and art present a whole range of metaphor of his silent culture, which could only be compared with Buddhahood. Adivasi has been living in the Present – NOW – for millennia in union with Nature. The Karvi hut of the Warli has that quality of timelessness, which we find in the poetry of Kabir and Tukaram.
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Remigius de Souza

(Remigius de Souza, ‘Tribal Housing or Buddha and the Art and Science of Karvi Hut’, Paper presented at the CONGRESS OF TRADITIONAL SCIENCES AND TECHNOLOGIES OF INDIA, at IIT Povai, Bombay, 28 Nov.- 3 Dec. 1993

For full paper click on Warli House and Habitat 


1. Papworth, Marcelle. ‘Book Review of ‘Against Art and Artists’ by Jean Gimpel, Fourth World Review, No. 50, 1992, UK. 
2. Rangoli: A line drawing/painting with pumis stone powder or rice powder, drawn in front the entrance. The stone powder is sometimes mixed with colour. Rangoli is also known as Alpana in Bengal, and Kolam in Tamilnadu.

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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.


  1. bravo for your blog ! you can see other blogs concerning warli art on this link :

  2. Hi, Hervé Perdriolle
    Many thanks for your information. It is useful information about Warli Art on this blog. I surely want to install this link on my blog. Warlis are worshipers of Mother Goddess that dates back to Indus Civilization, which though has been buried, the people prevail. Tribal - the aborigine all over the world should be respected and preserved as precious heritage for the civilized societies.
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  3. Hi,
    Thanks! I have been working from home for many years. It is the best thing to do. And I also enjoyed, while practicing as architect, visiting work-sites. What do you think of my post, WORK in the LCM-series?


  4. this is very insightful.thank you for sharing

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