Ramcharitmanas [The Story of Lord Rama],
six fine full-page miniature paintings.
North India, Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi(?) or Lucknow(?), Awadh School, circa 1795-1808.
Tulsi Das (c. 1523-1623) was a Hindu saint and poet renowned for his devotion to the deity Rama and his in-depth understanding of the Sanskrit language. During his lifetime he sought to make the story of the life of Lord Rama more accessible to the general public, whose understanding of their ancestral language of Sanskrit was diminished, by authoring this retelling of the well-known Ramayana in the vernacular language of Awadhi. Greeted with great success and popularity, this Ramacharitmanas continues to be considered one of the greatest works of devotional Hindu literature and has been acclaimed as being the most important work of Indian medieval poetry. A summary of the full text of the Ramacharitmanas is available upon request.
The Awadh school was a development of the later Mughal style with Rajput influences, sometimes referred to as the 'later provincial school of Lucknow'. The style began to emerge in the mid-eighteenth century and continued through to the turn of the nineteenth century, with Lucknow as the primary centre of production after a decline in patronage at Delhi saw Mughal artists move elsewhere for work. Painters of this genre often depicted ragas, raginis, stories from Hindu mythology, portraits of local nobility, and the style is best recognised for the myriad of colours often endorsed in a creative and visually stimulating manner. Following on from the Mughal tradition they are also painted with intricate craftsmanship and a great attention to detail. Though the present miniatures are characteristically Awadh which was firmly associated with Lucknow production, there is a possibility that they were painted in nearby Varanasi, where the patron Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh was based.
These miniatures are remarkable for their effortless naturalism, delicacy of line, the splendour of colour, and intricacies of decorative details and subtleties. Softness while depicting vista and characters are one of the prominent attributes of the Awadh school of miniature painting. Seven painters from this period have been recognised as artists dedicated to this Awadh school of painting, these are: Gajraj Singh, Asaf Ali Khan, Ghulam Mustafa, Mohammad Masud, Mohammad Wazir, Hasan Ali and Ali Khan (Amir Hasan, Palace Culture of Lucknow, India, 1983, pp. 16). This style of painting is often limited to a 50 year period (roughly from 1750 to 1800) and although there is no known artistic attribution to the present manuscript, there is a very high possibility that one of the above named artists is responsible for the fine miniature paintings present here. For more information on the Awadh school of painting and the above artists, see Preeti Awasthi, Awadh School of Painting- Miniature - a new genre of expression, IRJMSH, vol. 6 issue 1 (2015).
The present manuscript would have been produced at great expense. The size of the pages and use of high-quality thick buff paper indicate a level of quality that would not have been commonplace during this period. The script to the reverse of the pages has been copied in a very regular and neat devanagari script, indicating the presence of a practised courtly scribe, and the quality of miniature painting is exquisite and undoubtedly by a master at the time. Furthermore the attention to detail is breathtaking, and each and every one of the borders around the miniatures and script are present here in a different design. With the absence of the remaining body of text, that has been dispersed over time, it is impossible to know whether there were any duplicates in the border designs, but the examples present strongly indicate that each border was unique in its design.
The six folios present include the following scenes from the Ramacharitmanas:
I. Chapter: Bal Kand, 17.
Multiple scenes illustrated, comprising: Tulsi Das sitting and narrating the story of Rama to two of his disciples (top left); Rama and Sita sitting on their throne, sitting opposite them are Rishi Narad, Yagvalkya, Sugriva & Bhibhishan. Laxman is standing behind the Rama's throne and doing Chavar with monkeys on looking from a nearby tree (top right); Rama and Laxman sitting under a tree (central to the image); Rishi Yagvlkya narrating the story to Rishi Bharadwaja (lower left); Siva and Parvati sitting under a tree on mount Kailaksh and narrating the story of Ramayana to Kaka-Bhusandi (lower right).
II. Chapter: Kiskinda Kand, verse 4.
Multiple scenes illustrated, comprising: Monkey king Sugriva and bear chief Jamawant is sitting in the hills (top right); Rama and Laxman sitting in front of a fire and discussing with Sugriva and Jamawant. Hanuman is standing behind Rama (central); two similar scenes of consultation (lower half of painting).
III. Chapter: Kiskinda Kand, verse 5.
Multiple scenes illustrated, comprising: Rama and Laxman sitting on a hill meeting Monkey king Sugriva, Hanuman is standing behind them (top right); To dispel the doubts of Sugriva about Rama's strength, Rama is demonstrating the power of his bow and arrow by cutting 7 palm trees in a shoot of a single arrow (adjacent to above); Bali, the monkey King and brother of Sugriva is sitting in his white palace with his wife Tara and surrounded by ladies and attendants. On the advice of Rama, monkey king Sugriva is standing outside and challenging Bali for a wresting fight. Sensing of some wrong might happen, Bali's wife Tara is advising him not to accept Sugriva's challenge (central); Rama and Laxman are standing hidden behind a tree (adjacent).
IV. Chapter: Kiskinda Kand, verse 7.
Multiple scenes illustrated, comprising: Sugriva is introducing Angad, the son of Bali to Rama and Laxman, other monkey chiefs Hanuman and Bear cheif Jamawant are standing behind Rama. Just below Sugriva is lying the dead body of Bali. Below the body of Bali is the scene of Rama and Laxman meeting Tara, the widow of Bali, and other ladies. Beside them Laxman is crowning young Angad as the heir apparent, Rama, Hanuman and other monkeys are watching the scene. Below them in another scene the body of Bali is being cremated by his relatives, His wife, Tara and other ladies are on looking (top left); In the white palace chamber Sugriva is being crowned as money king by Laxman (lower right).
V. Chapter: Kiskinda Kand, verse 10.
Multiple scenes illustrated, comprising: Shiva sitting in his abode at Mt. Kailash is narrating the story of Rama to his Parvati (top left); Rama is asking his brother Laxman to go and remind money king Sugriva of his promise to help Rama in finding his wife Sita (top right); Laxman is walking towards Sugriva's Palace (adjacent scene); Sugriva is sitting in his place chamber surrounded by ladies while Hanuman is standing outside on the balcony (right of centre).
VI. Chapter: Kiskinda Kand, verse 13.
Multiple Scenes illustrated, comprising: On their quest to find Rama's wife Sita, the party of monkeys consisting Hanuman, Jamawant, Angad etc. goes towards south, on their way, near the sea, they meets vulture Sampati in above scene and his brother Jatayu in the scene below. Jatayu told them that he saw Lanka King Ravana taking away the Sita in his air-plane (centre top); The great vulture Sampati is depicted living in mountains, but came out to meet and help monkeys (top right).
Six fine illuminated miniature painting, ink and watercolour opaque colours on thick buff paper, heightened in gold, each a loose leaf from a monumental illuminated manuscript, in Awadhi, overall size 555 x 640 mm; text in single column, devanagari script, both sides of each leaf framed within intricately painted floral decorative borders illuminated in gilt (each of a different design), miniatures in a remarkably clean and attractive state of preservation; framed and glazed.
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