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The Mewar Ramayana

Welcome to one of the world's most beautiful Ramayana manuscripts. The original was prepared for Maharana Jagat Singh, the ruler of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, in the middle of the seventeenth century.

Most volumes of the manuscript are now in the British Library. They were presented by Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar to Colonel James Tod who brought them back to Britain in 1823. Other parts have remained in India, held today in three separate institutions and one private collection.

Digitisation has made it possible for this long-divided manuscript to be brought together again for the first time in almost 200 years. The majority of text pages in the manuscript have been digitised as well as the paintings so that Valmiki’s work can be read in the original Sanskrit.

View the digitally reunified Mewar Ramayana

View the digitally reunified Mewar Ramayana in 'Turning the Pages'

The file is large and may take several minutes to download. In addition to high-quality images of the original manuscript, there are page-by-page descriptions in text and sound. Please consult the browser requirements.

View selected pages of the Mewar Ramayana

This presentation will take less time to download than the reunified Mewar Ramayana. It presents a limited selection of pages held by the British Library only.

What is the Ramayana?

The Ramayana – “Rama’s journey” - is one of India’s oldest stories. It was first told in the Sanskrit epic poem of Valmiki some two and a half thousand years ago. Since then it has been retold over and over in different forms in many languages of India and beyond.

The Ramayana is India’s best-loved story, full of poignant moments and fascinating characters. The hero Rama is exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya due to the scheming of his stepmother, Kaikeyi. He is joined in the forest by his beloved wife Sita and his ever-faithful brother Lakshmana. Rama’s doting father, King Dasharatha, dies of a broken heart. Sita is carried off by the wicked demon-king, Ravana. The monkeys and the bears lead the frantic search for her. She is discovered by the devoted monkey Hanuman in Ravana’s stronghold of Lanka. After an epic battle in which Ravana is killed, Sita is rescued. Rama and Sita return in triumph to Ayodhya, ushering in a golden age.

The Ramayana story embodies the Hindu idea of dharma – duty, behaving correctly according to one’s position and role in society. Thus Rama is portrayed as the ideal son and ruler, Sita as the devoted wife, Lakshmana as the perfect brother. But the struggle between Rama and Ravana also represents the triumph of good over evil. Rama is identified as the seventh incarnation (avatara) of the Hindu god Vishnu, the Preserver, who descends to earth whenever evil threatens to overturn cosmic order. The Ramayana is therefore both a great human story and a central text of Hindu devotionalism.

Manuscripts of the Ramayana

The many manuscripts of the Ramayana that survive also bear witness to the work’s widespread popularity. Over 2,000 are known, dating from the eleventh century onwards.

Illustrated copies were prepared at various royal courts, particularly in Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills. But very few of these have survived in anything approaching complete form – generally only isolated paintings are found. Curiously, the earliest surviving illustrated Ramayana was made not for a Hindu patron but for the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1588, with 176 paintings.

The Mewar Ramayana, also know as the Jagat Singh Ramayana, is the finest copy of the work ever commissioned by a Hindu ruler. The story held a special significance for the Mewar ruling family, as the Sisodiya Rajputs counted Rama among their direct ancestors in the Solar Dynasty. The care – and expense – lavished upon the manuscript demonstrates that its preparation was a great act of family devotion.

HanumanThis manuscript is also the most heavily illustrated Ramayana known, originally containing perhaps as many as 450 paintings. The large format of eachindividual painting is also remarkable. This was one of the greatest manuscript projects ever undertaken in India and required close collaboration between teams of painters, although a single scribe copied the text. Little wonder that the manuscript took five years to complete, from 1649 to 1653.