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Art express: Check out the most stunning railway stations in India

Egged on by a nationwide contest, stations reached out to local artists and the results are truly beautiful. Drama, wildlife and Indian epics are now unfolding on the walls.

more lifestyle Updated: May 27, 2018 15:11 IST
Madhusree Ghosh
Madhusree Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Ballarshah and Chandrapur, the two stations leading to the Tadoba national park in Maharashtra, tied in first place. ‘So many people have come and stood stunned in front of the tiger painting before going up the steps,’ says Milind Atkale, an art student who helped beautify the Ballarshah station.
Ballarshah and Chandrapur, the two stations leading to the Tadoba national park in Maharashtra, tied in first place. ‘So many people have come and stood stunned in front of the tiger painting before going up the steps,’ says Milind Atkale, an art student who helped beautify the Ballarshah station. (Twitter.com/airciacec)

A tiger crouching in a tree, peacocks strutting along the walls, exotic birds peeking around the pillars. It’s no wonder that the stations leading to Maharashtra’s Tadoba national park — Ballarshah and Chandrapur — tied for first place.

For the first time, the Indian Railways’ annual cleanliness contest included an award for beautification, and the 62 entries from across 11 of the 17 railway zones were stunning examples of what is possible when regional governments work with local artists.

Madhubani station features intricate Ramayana-themed work by over 140 local artists, most of them women.

Madhubani in Bihar and Tamil Nadu’s Madurai were tied in second place. The first station features intricate Ramayana-themed work by over 140 artists. The latter is covered in vibrant temple art.

Three stations — Gandhidham in Gujarat, Kota in Rajasthan and Secunderabad in Telangana — won third place. The paintings at Gandhidham focused on the Kutch festival, Kota was covered in Kota-Bundi art and Secunderabad showcased the state’s Cheriyal form. The results were announced on May 2. Prizes ranged from ₹10 lakh to ₹3 lakh.

At Chandrapur, sculptures of deer cluster in corners, amid real greenery.

“This is a fantastic effort by the Railways,” says Umashankar Kumar, chief public relations officer for South Central Railways, which manages Secunderabad station. “The chance that local artists got all over the country to showcase their art to the world makes it even more special.”

It’s a wonderful way of helping local art reach the public through public spaces, adds Radhi Parekh, who works to promote regional arts and is founder-director of the Mumbai craft gallery, Artisans’.

A fake monkey perched on a lamp post, murals on every wall, peacocks at the water fountains — Ballarshah has a serious sense of fun.

“Madhubani is what we have done all our lives,” says Manju Mishra, 46, who was among the artists responsible for that award-winning station.

“So when the railway ministry announced in the papers that they were looking for artists to paint on the station walls, we volunteered. Now we have also received a share of the prize.”

HERE ARE THE PRIZE WINNERS

CHANDRAPUR: It took 10 months for 60 students of the Government College of Art & Design, Nagpur, to produce the paintings, murals and sculptures that won Chandrapur and Ballarshah the tie for first place. “We brought the Tadoba national park to both railway stations,” says Vinod Mankar, who teaches at the art institute and headed the committee that oversaw the project. “All the art is about the fascinating wildlife here — birds, monkeys, deer, and of course the tiger.”

Ballarshah: Within the station premises, leopards leap out of trees and monkeys perch on walls. The toilets and station offices are covered in forest-themed murals and tiger stripes. Some walls feature pastel forest scenes; others have dramatic blow-ups of peacock photographs. Even the platforms have artificial trees propping up the ceiling.

MADHUBANI: Scenes from the Ramayana are recreated in intricate detail along the walls of the 7,000-sq-ft Madhubani station, which tied for second place. Most of the 140 artists behind these gorgeous paintings are women from nearby villages. “We painted scenes from the Ramayana and also scenes from village life. The passengers love our artwork,” says Manju Mishra, 46, a Madhubani artist.

MADURAI: This painting on an escalator wall by artist A Kannan depicts a scene from rural Tamil Nadu, and helped win Madurai a spot in second place. The soothing blues and expansive view became instantly popular with passengers. The station also features a mural by temple artist GK Ramesh. “I come from a family of temple artists and learnt the art from my father,” Ramesh says. “I used acrylic paint and my style is inspired by Indian art before the period of Raja Ravi Varma, characterised by flat, two-dimensional figures.”

KOTA: Mohammad Lukman, 59, is one of the last surviving Kota-Bundi artists. So when it came to painting the Kota railway station, he and his 15-member team were the clear choice for railway authorities. “I’m a painter of miniatures and the type of painting we do dates back to the 16th century. When I got the opportunity to paint at the railway station, it was a great honour,” says Lukman. The colourful paintings showcase hunting scenes, royal processions, the grand lifestyle of the royals, and wildlife from the nearby forests. They took a month and a half to complete.

SECUNDERABAD: In 2017, Secunderabad was adjudged India’s second-cleanest railway station. It is now also one of the most beautiful. “When the question of beautification came up, we wanted Cheriyal scroll paintings, a specialty of Telangana, to be highlighted. This is a dying art form. We are glad that we could make it more accessible to everyone,” says Umashankar Kumar, chief public relations officer for the South Central Railways. The artwork was done by 15 artists from Cheriyal village, over 20 days. The paintings depict the vibrant Bathukamma festival celebrated in Telangana for nine days during Durga Navratri, a Telugu wedding scene, a harvest festival and more.

GANDHIDHAM: All the art on the walls of Gandhidham station are spray paintings. “We didn’t use brushes at all,” says Vimal Patel, one of the three artists responsible. The paintings highlight the Kutch festival, the salt-making process that is a specialty of that state, and Rogan art. “We worked for a whole month. The best feeling was when passengers passing by or stopping at the platform for tea praised the paintings and said they would look come back to see them,” Patel says.