Religion of the Warlis



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. An awe of life in all its forms leads the Warlis to revere almost everything – animate or inanimate. Being always conscious of the phenomenon of death, they look upon even the humblest manifestation of life with great wonder. The multiplicity of life in all its varied manifestations is respected by the Warlis. This is the reason the tiger can be painted in both his ferocious and benevolent form in the same painting. For the Warlis – life is a combination of the fantastic, imaginary, unseen and the real, tangible, everyday objects. Their paintings beautifully portray this as they show their ancestral god riding a humble horse.

Since in their daily life, the Warlis need to actively contend with nature, their chief gods are elemental nature gods and goddesses. The Sun, Moon, Thunder, Lightning, Great Wind and the Rain and many others form the Warli pantheon. Perhaps to dispel their awesome intangibility, these gods and goddesses are worshipped in anthropomorphic forms – having almost human attributes and superhuman qualities. They depict the gods in playful interaction with the human kind as for them – all life is interconnected and the actions of men affect the cosmic order and vice versa.

With change of seasons, the gods appropriate to the seasons are worshipped. For the Warlis, each year is born in the monsoon, reaches its full bloom during harvest, and attains maturity and finally death after the last corn has been threshed and sold in the market. With the bringing in of the first rice, the rain god’s festival Naranadeva is celebrated with kamadi dance. When the corns ripen, the household gods Hirva, Himai, Jhoting, and Naranadeva are worshipped. The Warlis savor the fruits of their labor only when the crop has been stacked and stored. This is also season of marriages and nuptial bliss. The presiding deity of marriage – Palghat – the vegetation deity is worshipped with all heart.

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 paek 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 according to 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-fulfillment 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.

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