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One of the world's most beautiful Rāmāyaṇa manuscripts prepared for Maharana Jagat Singh, the ruler of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, in the middle of the 17th century.
The Mewar Rāmāyaṇa, also known as the Jagat Singh Rāmāyaṇa, 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 Rāma 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.
This manuscript is also the most heavily illustrated Rāmāyaṇa known, originally containing perhaps as many as 450 paintings. The large format of each individual 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. The manuscript took five years to complete, from 1648 to 1653.
The Rāmāyaṇa – ‘Rāma’s journey’ – is one of India’s oldest stories. It was first told in the Sanskrit epic poem of Vālmīki 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 Rāmāyaṇa is India’s best-loved story, full of poignant moments and fascinating characters. The hero Rāma is exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya due to the scheming of his wicked stepmother, Kaikeyi. He is joined in the forest by his beloved wife Sītā and his ever-faithful brother Lakṣmaṇa. Rāma’s doting father, King Dasharatha, dies of a broken heart. Sītā is carried off by the wicked demon-king, Rāvaṇa. The monkeys and the bears lead the frantic search for her. She is discovered by the devoted monkey Hanumān in Rāvaṇa’s stronghold of Lanka. After an epic battle in which Rāvaṇa is killed, Sītā is rescued. Rāma and Sītā return in triumph to Ayodhya, ushering in a golden age.
The Rāmāyaṇa story embodies the Hindu idea of dharma – duty, behaving correctly according to one’s position and role in society. Thus Rāma is portrayed as the ideal son and ruler, Sītā as the devoted wife and Lakṣmaṇa as the perfect brother. The struggle between Rāma and Rāvaṇa also represents the triumph of good over evil. Rāma is identified as the seventh incarnation (avatar) of the Hindu god Vishnu, the Preserver, who descends to earth whenever evil threatens to overturn cosmic order. The Rāmāyaṇa is therefore both a great human story and a central text of Hinduism.
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