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Rama's Quest for Sita

Rama attacks Lanka
Rama and his allies begin the attack on Lanka, by Sahib Din. From a manuscript of the Ramayana, Udaipur, 1652
Add. Ms Add. 15297(1), f.20

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Rama's quest for his wife Sita, kidnapped by Ravana the demon king of Lanka, is the basis of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Rama, prince of Ayodhya, won the hand of the beautiful Sita, but through the plotting of his wicked stepmother was exiled with his wife for 14 years. In the forest Sita was carried off by the demon Ravana. Rama was befriended by the monkeys who ranged the world looking for her. Once her abductor had been discovered, Rama and his allies then attacked Lanka, killed Ravana, and rescued Sita. In order to prove her chastity, Sita entered fire, but was vindicated by the gods and restored to her husband. After the couple's triumphant return to Ayodhya, Rama's rule (Ram-raj) inaugurated a golden age for all mankind. The Mythical Quest tells the story of Rama's search for Sita using paintings from the great Rajput manuscript prepared in Udaipur in 1649-53 for Rana Jagat Singh, with its fabulous cast of monkeys, bears, vultures and demons.

It is difficult to exaggerate the influence of the story of Rama and of his quest for Sita on the whole of Indian and South-east Asian culture over more than two millennia, as Rama became identified with Vishnu, the Preserver of the World, in his eighth avatar, come to earth to restore good to the world. Rama's quest for his abducted wife thus became the mechanism by which he was brought to confront, and to destroy, evil. The original Sanskrit epic was translated into all the major languages of this vast area, and the story became the basis of numerous dramatic and poetic versions in both court and popular traditions. Illustrated manuscripts, Hindu images, court and folk paintings, shadow-puppets from Java - all combine in the exhibition to celebrate good's triumph over evil.

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