Brain Pickings

The Night Life of Trees: Exquisite Handmade Illustrations Based on Indian Mythology

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What ancient Indian mythology has to do with fair-trade entrepreneurship and the timeless love of books.

If there ever was a project that reclaimed “authenticity” and “innovation” from their present status of fluff-lined buzzwords and into a genuine ethos, it would be South Indian independent publisher Tara Books, who for the past 16 years has been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers and designers collaborating on remarkable handmade books. Crafted by local artisans in their fair trade workshop in Chennai, the books are hand-bound and each page is painstakingly screen-printed by hand using traditional Indian dyes, whose fresh earthy scent gently oozes from the gorgeous pages of the finished book.

Tara’s crown jewel is the magnificent The Night Life of Trees — the kind of large-format tactile treasure you take into your hands and never want to let go. It’s based on the ancient mythology of India’s Gond tribe, who believe that during the day trees serve to nourish and protect the Earth’s creatures, but it’s at night when they come into a life of their own. The breathtakingly beautiful illustrations, screen-printed on thick and textured black paper, come from three renowned Gond artists and blend the whimsical stories about the spirits of the Sambar tree with the practical uses of trees in Indian life, woven together into a delicate lace of magic and mundanity that poetically captures the duality of existence.

Take a peek inside the book’s beautiful pages, but bear in mind the camera and the screen don’t do any justice to their rich, textured splendor, which remains lost in digital translation.

The book comes in a number of limited-edition runs of 2000, each featuring a different artwork on the cover and hand-numbered on the back.

A multisensory delight with a soul-warming story, The Night Life of Trees is a pinnacle of breathing new life into ancient traditions and timeless storytelling with a modern entrepreneurial ethos. Above all, it’s a moving manifesto for the mesmerism of the paper page in the age of e-everything.

Artwork courtesy of Tara Books; photographs by Maria Popova

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