The Warlis or Varlis are an indigenous tribe living in mountainous as well as coastal areas of Maharashtra-Gujarat border and surrounding areas. They have their own animistic beliefs, life, customs and traditions, as a result of acculturation they have adopted many Hindu beliefs. The Warlis carry on a tradition stretching back to 2500 or 3000 BC.
Their extremely rudimentary wall paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square.Their paintings were monosyllabic. The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature, the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived from mountains and pointed trees. Only the square seems to obey a different logic and seems to be a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. The central motif in these ritual paintings is surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing and farming, festivals and dances, trees and animals. Human and animal bodies are represented by two triangles joined at the tip; the upper triangle depicts the trunk and the lower triangle the pelvis. Their precarious equilibrium symbolizes the balance of the universe, and of the couple, and has the practical and amusing advantage of animating the bodies.
Apart from ritualistic paintings, other warli paintings covered day to day activities of the village folks.One of the central striking aspect of many warli painting is the "Tarpa dance"- the tarpa, a trumpet like instrument, is played in turns by different men. Men and women entwine their hands and move in a circle around the tarpa player.The dancers follow the tarpa player, turning and moving as he turns, never turning their back to the tarpa. The circle formation of the dancers is also said to be a resemble the circle of life.
The pared down pictorial language is matched by a rudimentary technique. The ritual paintings are usually done inside the huts. The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth and cow dung, making a red ochre background for the wall paintings. The Warli use only white for their paintings. Their white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binding. They use a bamboo stick chewed at the end to make it as supple as a paintbrush. The wall paintings are done only for special occasions such as weddings or harvests.