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Cultural Confusion- Warli and Saura

Saura and Warli, though seemingly similar, are very different from each other.

By: Aditi Iyer

India is culturally diverse, and this diversity bleeds into the artistic expression of artists and artisans around the country. Every state and district has a unique artistic identity and a detailed history attached to every art form practised by the people. This diversity, however, has led to the disproportionate representation of said art forms- some are more recognized and popular than others.

The under-representation of art forms often leads to them becoming forgotten or obscure, with a niche market and an even smaller number of artists practising them. Another problem with lack of representation is that sometimes, they become mixed up with other art forms. This piece will look into how Warli and Saura are two significantly different art forms though they seem to be the same.

Origin of the Art Form

Warli, derived from the word ‘Warla’ (meaning land), originated in the coastal areas of Maharashtra in the 10th century AD. It originates from the tribes of the North Sahyadri Range of Maharashtra.

Saura originated from Orissa and can be traced back to the same period as the Ramayana and Mahabharata (around the 6th century BCE). It comes from the Saura tribe- the paintings are called ‘Ikons’ or ‘Ekons’.

How are they Made?

Warli’s colour palette consists of reds, browns and whites. The background usually uses red ochre, and the figures are made with white, which is made of rice paste. The figures are scattered across the canvas on a flat, two-dimensional plane.

Saura’s colour palette has more colours- reds, yellows, whites, blues and greens. Saura art applies a fishnet approach- the borders are first drawn, and the canvas is filled with figures and motifs.

Original Artists

Warli paintings and murals were traditionally only created by Savasini- female members of the Warli tribe. Women and girls created Warli artworks on the walls of their homes.

Saura was practised only by priests of the tribe- they were the only ones who were trusted to paint the proper symbols and motifs to appease their deity,


Warli depicts nature and everyday activities like hunting, dancing and fishing, and the celebration of festivals.

Saura depicts religious symbols and mythological stories. Paintings are made to appease the deity Edital and pray for peace, health, prosperity and harmony. Saura is also painted before occasions such as childbirth, harvest and marriage.

Figures and Motifs

In Warli, human figures are represented by two triangles placed in the form of the number eight, with a visible neck. Women are depicted with their hair in a bun or ponytail, while men have no hair. Warli uses motifs of people, community, flora and fauna, and deities who influence the culture of the people.

Saura, in contrast, uses fluid stick figures, and figures are also more elongated and more elongated than the ones seen in Warli art. There is no differentiation between male and female shapes. Saura uses repetition- recurring motifs of people, the tree of life, the sun and moon, horses, and elephants- the most different factor of Saura. The figures in Saura's artworks are icons or ikons, and all hold their own symbolism.

Why do we keep Saura?

Warli is very well known among the people, so The Palkhi aims to promote Saura and bring this art form to the limelight. This is why Saura art works are available in the catalogue.

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