Tag Archives: Maharashtra

Warli Paintings

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education. 

Context:  As we were talking about different types of folklore, MN shared this information about this particular Indian tribal art that originated from their state in India. 

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information): 

MN: “Warli paintings are also from where I am from, Maharashtra. There is a mountain range in Maharashtra called sayandrit (spelled Sahyadri) and it … originated there. And it is tribal art. Like tribes, there used to make this art and I think … there’s prehistoric caves … umm … like huge … huge prehistoric caves, the most significant of them are arjenda (proceeds to spell A-j-a-n-t-a and E-l-l-o-r-a) and alura I think they are UNESCO historic sites and they have … like … they’re approximately 2 BCE. They have this temple (gestures towards photo on UNESCO website) … it’s almost like a Buddhist temple … and they have closed entry there now … because it was a tourist location where you can see the paintings and stuff. And if you look online you can still see the color and stuff. It has these … like geometric shapes … this is like the feature of it. Almost like what kids draw, but there is a lot of imagery of the sun … and people dancing. In most of the Warli paintings, you will see the sun … and people dancing in a circle. It is kind of … a design choice.”

Me: “I kinda have a couple follow-up questions about the paintings with the Warli paintings. Like did you have a favorite … or like did you ever … like … interact with one … that kinda changed  the way you see things?”

MN: “ Ummm … not really, this is not really … uhh .. it’s a very abstract design. It’s not the same everywhere. Uhhh … it’s not like a particular painting or anything .. just specific features of this painting. It’s a … type of painting … I’d say… a stylistic choice.  So there’s not a particular one that I… but I do remember a restaurant having one mural … it was all the whole wall. 

Analysis: This type of folk art that MN had informed me about was very interesting because it first belonged to a very niche group, but transitioned to a UNESCO world heritage site. MN provides their unique perspective as a local emphasizes that Warli paintings are an art style that has since transformed and integrated into contemporary times. The motifs in the Warli art style continue to be adapted in the contemporary pieces, as MN mentions. The Warli paintings are connected largely to the Buddhist belief system and this connection could explain its prevalence in modern art. MN explained that the most common motifs are the Sun and the dancing people, which are very telling of a culture that values warmth and community. The Sun is often associated with masculinity, warmth, and energy. The geometric people suggest that modern Indian society is heavily influenced by dance.

MN recounted that Ajanta was once a tourist attraction, but later, UNESCO protected the cave to preserve India’s art history. After it turned into a UNESCO site Ajanta was no longer to be enjoyed by the general public and access was restricted. The Warli paintings are folk art that can no longer be enjoyed in person, which could have hurt the local economy. Tourism is the largest market and when UNESCO protected Ajanta, it also destroyed tourism. The locals were no longer able to visit the site either. This restriction could also explain the prevalence of Warli painting motifs in more contemporary pieces, such as decor in a restaurant as MN mentioned.

For more information about Ajanta, as well as visuals please visit the UNESCO website: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/242.

Lemons for Life … or Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education.

Context: In Maharashtra, where MN is from, it is customary for a meal to be accompanied by a slice of lemon to be used as a condiment. The lemons in India are almost circular (spherical) so the nub is hard to find unless one is paying attention.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):

MN: In Indian food, you keep salt and a piece of lemon so that you can put it in anything like a curry or even rice, make it flavorful. And, so whenever you want to cut the lemon you always … you know there’s a nub (gestures to emphasize point) … on the side … you always cut it perpendicular to that. You always keep it flat and cut it like that because when someone dies in the funeral process, that’s when you cut the lemon parallel to the nub. Ummm … that’s because when you prepare a plate for the person who has died the lemon should be cut in that direction. And … like … my mother used to scold me because I didn’t pay attention, but it’s like a bad omen to cut it like this because it’s like you are invoking the dead. There’s just a fun (pause) little (even longer pause) fact that I learned that … always cutting … so like … now, I’m like … I am very like …. Always cutting like this (gestures cutting motion with hands). So on the plates for the dead, that’s when you cut the lemon with the nub.”

Me: “Can I interrupt you for a second? I just want to know, I just want to know, Do you know where your mom learned it? And do you think that’s like …only … to … um where … you’re from?”

MN: This is some item … it’s not like some book, I think. It’s like some, like knowledge that everyone knows this … it’s like. She learned it from … It’s just something that she was taught … and I was taught.

Analysis: MN is very enthusiastic about sharing their culture. I find it quite fascinating that this specific funeral right is extremely detailed. It clearly demonstrates how much thought and effort loved ones dedicate when preparing for their departed loved ones. It is also interesting because this specific ritual is not written down but rather a tradition that is passed down in MN’s culture. The specific focus on the way lemons are cut reflects on MN’s character as well because they are considerate and detail-oriented. Although cutting lemons is commonplace, the symbolism for the Maharashtrian people is extraordinary. Lemons can bring some dishes to life by providing additional flavor and the juxtaposition between zest and the loss of life is also telling of MN’s culture.