Madhbani artists hope painting images of Gods and Deities will save trees
Dozens of artists are painting roadside trees and their leaves with colourful stories from Hindu epics, hoping to save the region's already critically sparse greenery here.
The unusual campaign, using coats of paint and brushes, has been launched in Madhubani, 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.
Social activist Shashthi Nath Jha, who runs a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to empowering women and child labourers, said that the traditional practice of using natural ingredients would protect the trees from parasites in addition to enhancing their aesthetic value. He added that the initiative would also give the artists a good marketing opportunity for their skills.
"Madhubani painting is a famous part of Mithilanchal's heritage. Making these paintings on trees and their leaves will make this style of painting even more famous. Protecting trees will benefit our lives. These paintings will also solve the marketing problem faced by the artists, by giving them direct access to the market," Jha said.
The artists work in the style of Madhubani painting, a form of painting done with fingers, twigs, the points of fountain pens and even matchsticks, using natural colours and characterised by brilliant geometrical patterns.
"When we make paintings of Krishna, Radha, Rama and Sita on the trees, we contribute towards protecting the environment, because people will appreciate the beauty of the paintings and desist from cutting down the trees," said Aarti Kumari, an artist.
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.
Jha made several experiments to check the durability of the paint in the open, finally deciding to apply a mix of natural and artificial paints to ensure the paintings survive the fast-changing weather conditions.
Jha has currently recruited 100 people to the task and the artists are paid 300 rupees for every tree painted by them. But he said: "locals also had a debt of sorts to repay, to the plants and trees that have been sources of sustenance, beauty and colour to the people of the region."
"The initiative has drawn the attention of the international community as well, with a team from Switzerland recently visiting to study how art could be used to convey a strong social message," added Jha.
According to state records, the forest coverage of the state, which suffers from recurring floods, is currently just under 7 percent.
The government is taking additional steps to increase greenery in the region, with plans to plant 250 million saplings in the next five years and appointing 'Tree Friends' to care for young trees planted along roads and other public places.