Indian artists hope images of gods will save trees

God

Dozens of artists in the eastern Indian state of Bihar are painting roadside trees and their leaves with colourful stories from Hindu epics, hoping to save the region's already critically sparse greenery.

The unusual campaign, using coats of paint and brushes, has been launched in Madhubani, a northern Bihar district known for its religious and cultural awareness, resulting in hundreds of otherwise untended roadside trees covered in elaborate artwork.

Artists are depicting the moods of deities, scenes from Hindu classics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or an imaginary scene showing an elderly woman restraining a man coming with an axe to cut trees.

They believe the artwork will prompt the deeply-religious locals to drop any idea of cutting down the trees out of fear of incurring the wrath of the deities.

We are using the deities as a cover, said Shashthi Nath Jha, who also runs an NGO dedicated to empowering women and child labourers, speaking by phone from Madhubani, around 1,200 kilometres (746 miles) east of New Delhi.

We thought people will not do any harm to trees once they come across the images of gods and goddesses on them.

According to Bihar state records, the forest coverage of the state, which suffers from recurring floods, is currently just under 7 percent.

The tree painting campaign began in September this year after Jha managed to overcome numerous local objections, including doubt that the campaign would last long, worries about how much the paint cost and fears the colours would soon fade.

I had to convince them a lot before they agreed to join me, Jha said.

I made several experiments to check the durability of the paint in the open. Finally we decided to apply a mix of natural and artificial paints to ensure the painting survives the fast-changing weather conditions.

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