The tribal (warli, malharkoli, kokani, katkari) of Thane district in Maharashtra make Warli paintings. They do not consist of the myriad primary colours, so intimately associated with folk painting in India. Instead they are painted on an austere brown surface with the use of only one colour-white The only exception are red and yellow auspicious dots which are used to decorate the painting. The first impression of sobriety, however, is countered by the ebullience of the thems depicted. Men, animals and trees from a loose, rhythmic pattern across the entire sheet. This results in a light swinging and swirling movement, describing the day to day activities of the Warlis. Warli art was first discovered in early seventies. In many important respects, it was different from the folk and tribal idiom known to urban India till then. It did not narrate mythological stories in vibrant as did the Madhubani paintings of Mithila, nor did it contain the robust sensuality of the pata paintings found in the districts of Bengal, Orissa or Rajasthan.
Warli painting though essentially the same, depicting the marriage ceremony with the vegetation goddess in the center, her guardian in a side cauk and a surrounding landscape in which the preparations for the wedding are taking place, are far from repetitive for there are considerable differences in form and content between one area and another.
The Warli are short in stature with dark, burnt complexions and broad physical features. They share a connon religious awe of the Tiger God and roughly carved wooden statues of him can be found installed in all parts of the district.
Agriculture is their main occupation and provides bare sustenance to the Warlis. With paddy as their main crop, harvested once a year, there is little or no surplus for the coming year. An average of two to three acres for a family of five is barely sufficient for the year and the summer months find the Warlis looking for part-time jobs.The men of the family work during summer on other farm, constructing bunds, in bricks factories, repairing road for the Government or with the forest department.
The women lend a helping hand by cutting grass to be sold in the market.
The rough and rugged foothiils of the Sahyadri range, which comprise the main part of Thane, afford easy refuge to those who shun contact with the outside world.The undulating landscape, leading to higher and more invincible hills in the east which forms a natural boundary between thane and the rest of the state. The Warlis live in the rugged part of the country and keep much to themselves and have their own social organisation.The is no caste differentiation among them.