The Banyan Tree

The word ‘vaatsalya’ in Sanskrit means love, affection, tenderness, fondness; this word is used to describe a mother’s love for her child. The banyan tree embraces, like a mother with hundred arms, her brood of children. It wrapped me into this embrace of life.

The banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) at The Theosophical Society in  Chennai, spreads across 60,000 square area and is some 450 years old. Growing on the banks of the Adyar river, not too far from where  the river drains into the Bay of Bengal, this banyan tree has had its tryst with history. In the Blavatsky bungalow that is nearly strangled by the colony of roots of this tree, stayed Rabindranath Tagore; the  tree has extended its hospitality to several other luminaries too, like J Krishnamurti, Annie Besant and Maria Montessori.

The tree with its immense settlement of aerial roots and its extensive green canopy has a presence that has to be experienced. The main tree was uprooted by gale in 1989 and efforts made to root it back failed. There is a hollow now where there was once this immense trunk. The aerial roots that have come from the mother tree, have put out branches and spread the canopy around. This is a clonal colony carrying  memories of the mother tree in their fibers of existence.

There are several banyan trees in The Theosophical Society. I spent two afternoons sketching some of the trees. Here is one of them, that I have drawn using 9 B lead pencil. 

This is the old tree I have written about. I used tinted papers and soft pastels for these two sketches.

I used oil pastels on tinted papers for these two paintings.

I have used the negative space to suggest the undergrowth of ferns in this painting.


   I am an Urban Sketcher



   You can hear blue
   in wind over water
   And when evening steps into
   lonely rooms.

   Mary O’Neill

Vasant Vihar

It was a warm Saturday afternoon, a typical September day with clouds tucked high in the inky sky and dragon flies swooping near the grass.  I sat on the cool lawn in Vasant Vihar (Krishnamurti Foundation)and began sketching the cottage called ‘Banyan’ that was shrouded in thick vegetation of palms, laburnum trees and trumpet vine whose flowers secreted the afternoon light in their petals.  The sun played so beautifully on the cottage and I captured the light in a quick water colour wash.

As I finished my water colour  Kalpana ,  fellow urban sketcher, joined me on the cool lawn. Both of us drew the main building that houses the library and office.

There is a very dense cover  of trees, creepers and ferns opposite the main building. I worked on a tinted paper with crayons to capture the interplay of greens and browns with light and darkness. I did not worry about the details and focussed on forms emerging out of tones of colours. 

The crape mrytle trees were in full bloom in Vasant Vihar. This branch was laden with a cluster of mauve blooms. 

  I am an Urban Sketcher