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Ramayana - Pages 3 and 4

Pages 3 and 4
Copyright © The British Library Board

Add. MS 15296(1)

ff.7v and 24r

The first book of the Mewar Ramayana, which is still in India, deals with Rama's early years. At the court of Ayodhya, king Dasaratha had three wives - Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra - and four sons. Rama, the eldest son, was born to Kausalya, Bharata was born to Kaikeyi and the twins Laksmana and Satrughna to Sumitra. Laksmana became particularly devoted to Rama and Satrughna to Bharata. Rama had won the hand of the princess Sita, daughter of king Janaka of Mithila, through his heroic feat of bending and stringing the enormous bow of the god Siva, and brought her back to Ayodhya. The historical city of Ayodhya was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kosala. Its ruins survive outside the modern city of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh.

In the second book, the Book of Ayodhya, Kaikeyi has become jealous of Rama as his father has announced that he is to be installed as regent. In this picture, she is first seen on the left lying on the ground in a dishevelled and angry state having stripped herself of her ornaments. Dasaratha is overcome at the sight of her and promises to do anything she wants to appease her. She rises from the ground to demand that her son Bharata be promised the throne and Rama be exiled for fourteen years. Rama was less than sixteen years old at this time. On the right Dasaratha is first seen bemused seated on a couch as he listens to Kaikeyi's demands and then below kneeling at her feet beseeching her to change her mind. The action revolves around the still figure of the minister Sumantra, who makes a pictorial link with the next episode, since he is sent by the Brahmins to awaken the king to begin the consecration of Rama as regent.

This book with its 68 paintings was the responsibility of the studio master Sahib Din, whose style determined the direction of Mewar painting throughout the quarter-century reign of his royal master Jagat Singh. Rajput painting at this period employs completely different conventions to those of contemporary European or even Mogul painting. Figures are in silhouette and invariably their faces are in full profile with fish-shaped eyes fully drawn in. There is no interest in perspective and little in modelling or shading. Often multiple viewpoints are employed simultaneously. Emotion is suggested as in a silent drama by subtle changes in the position of the head or by eloquent gestures. The aesthetic effect depends on the creativity of the draftsmanship, the juxtaposition of silhouetted characters who boldly interact with one another and on the deployment of brilliant colouring.

Sahib Din has opened up the space in his paintings by employing the high horizon and bird's eye viewpoint of early Mogul painting which he must have learnt earlier in his career. He also uses the ancient Indian narrative device of simultaneous narration. In this technique characters reoccur several times in one painting in order to tell as much of the story as possible. This painting is a relatively simple example in which the characters each appear three times (four in Kaikeyi's case) in scenes close in time but spread over two chapters of the text. The artist employs the ancient Indian hand gesture (vyakhana mudra) to indicate speech. The denseness of the illustration of Jagat Singh's Ramayana is such that there would have been little need to refer to the text in order to follow the story.

The scribe Mahatma Hirananda decorates the first few folios of text with the kind of patterns traditional in Jain manuscripts. He leaves a gap in the shape of a diamond in the centre of the folio, here decorated with a red outline to form a cross, which marks the place for a hole in a palm-leaf manuscript. He includes a large red circle here as well as in the margins. The marginal red circles mark the places for traditional foliation in palm-leaf manuscripts, even though the scribe writes the folio number in its more modern place in the bottom right corner. Hirananda was a Jain scribe and hence incorporated these traditional Jain scribal elements into his work for Jagat Singh. The text is written on large thick sheets of light beige Indian paper which has been slightly burnished. The number of lines of text per page varies markedly depending on the density of the illustrative programme. In this book the text is generally arranged in panels formed by a framework of three red vertical lines on each side and two at top and bottom. In the centre of most folios, recto and verso, is a blank diamond five lines high, empty but for four isolated letters. Fewer of these Jain elements are employed in the later books.

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