Within the 18th century, the then king of Benaras, Udit Narayan Singh, launched into an formidable mission — Kanchan Chitra Ramayana, a powerful Ramayana manuscript that was laden with gold. Within the twenty first century, the Kanchan Chitra Ramayana, based mostly on Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, stands as a testomony to the grandeur of India’s creative heritage. What units this manuscript aside is just not solely its opulence, with its pages laden with gold, but in addition the convergence of numerous faculties of miniature portray inside its beautiful pages.
Maybe, for the primary time ever, persons are attending to view a few of these pages at an exhibition organised by the Museum of Artwork and Pictures (MAP) in Bengaluru. Whereas the manuscript had 1100 folios, on the present are 80 folios, a few of which belong to totally different non-public collections.
Whereas the context of the upcoming Ram Temple in Ayodhya and the years of battle that preceded it — one viewer on the present was really searching for Babri Masjid within the painted folios — makes the exhibition extra interesting, even with out the political overtones, it’s an awesome present that must be seen.
The folios painted in numerous miniature types of Delhi, Jaipur, Awadh, Murshidabad, and Datia are teeming with figures in motion, wealthy natural world, and beautiful structure that has been rendered in such superb element.
The picture on the folio depicting the gathering of astrologers to decide on the day for Rama and Sita’s wedding ceremony is sort of attention-grabbing. Ram’s father, Raja Dasrath, is deciding the time with the assistance of eminent monks, sages, and noblemen. Narada Muni, who was despatched by Brahma to Earth to tell Dasrath of the auspicious date, is portrayed in lots of phases, together with his arrival, his crossing of a river in Janakpur, and his subsequent seating among the many meeting to debate the date. The minutest of particulars are given consideration by the artists from Awadh. Narada’s veena is painted blue with a coconut positioned in entrance of him, wrapped in pink fabric and sacred thread.
In keeping with Parul Singh, who has co-curated the exhibition with the late Kavita Singh, Udit Narayan Singh persuaded painters from varied North Indian miniature traditions to congregate in Benaras, have interaction in dialog with Ramayani students, and reply to it of their paintings.
“The mission was so huge that artists needed to be referred to as from totally different components following totally different types, just like the reign of Pratap Singh of Jaipur, Delhi type, Datia Type. The artists needed to work carefully with Ramayani students as a result of each textual content web page is accompanied by a portray. It’s a chance that a few of the painters may need been illiterate,” remarks the artwork historian, who specialises in pre-modern visible and materials tradition with a concentrate on South Asian artwork.
Udit Narayan Singh was a pious king who promoted artwork and tradition, however these weren’t the one causes for producing the Golden Illustrated Ramayana. Parul Singh says, “He additionally obtained political dividends out of it. His topics took discover of him. Ramnagar grew to become a pilgrimage centre. Ram devotees from throughout flocked to Ramnagar to see it. Whereas his father, Mahip Narayan Singh, began the well-known Ramnagar ki Ramlila, it was Udit Narayan Singh who turned it right into a grand spectacle.”
It’s attention-grabbing to notice that the setting of Ayodha shifts to Benaras within the work, which displays in its structure, upholstery, terrain, panorama and textiles. “The raja was a Shiv Bhakt and he constructed not simply Shiva but in addition Ram temples. Ramcharimanas had immediately change into very talked-about within the 18th century, and it was due to the Ramanandi sect. But it surely appealed to a cross-section of the individuals, regardless of caste and gender, in North India,” says the Delhi-based curator.
There’s certainly a colophon that alludes to a doable Ramanandi gathering during which Tulsidas is reciting Ramcharitmas to a various crowd that features Vaishnavites, Shaiviites, a Muslim man, and ladies. Ramanandi is a Hindu sect that was based by saint Ramananda, a believer in Rama, Sita and Hanuman, within the 14th century. As saint Ramanandi was towards caste, group, creed and faith, the sect is inclusive.
Within the present, totally different scenes from Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, which is a retelling of Valmiki’s Ramayana, play out main occasions from Rama’s life, starting from the primary kand — Bal Kand, to Uttara Kand, which is the seventh and final kand.
The Rama-Ravan battle is depicted within the folio that artists of Jaipur with the assistance of Datia painters created exhibiting Rama’s military besieging Lanka. Shiva and Parvati, the scene’s narrators, are pictured within the bottom-left nook. Reverse them, Rama could be seen strategising together with his advisors whereas being encircled by a military of monkeys and bears. The folio’s centre is a battlefield the place armies of monkeys, bears, and demons cost at each other.
Parul notes that artists from totally different workshops make use of typical methods of their college, which distinguishes one type from one other.
“You discover totally different group of artists responding to Ramayani students. You’ve Mughal artists utilizing one hair brush to depict the intricate ornamentation and detailing of the palace however they miss out on sure essential factors. As an example, a folio is a couple of mark that you may see on the moon. If you see the moon, you are feeling it has been squeezed in as an afterthought.”
She factors out one other folio which has Nal and Neel, commanders of Sugriv’s military who have been entrusted with the duty of constructing the Rama Setu. “They’re alleged to do essential touching of the boulders in order that the boulders can float however are lacking. It appears to be like like they have been added later,” provides Parul.
A number of folios additionally characteristic Kaka Bhusundi, the crow sage, who performs a vital function in Ramacharitamanas’ Uttara kand.
The folios would have stayed within the non-public assortment of the Benaras royal household, however over the previous 4 years, they have been disseminated across the artwork market and into the general public area. It’s attention-grabbing to see that Udit Narayan’s identify and seal have been eliminated to obscure the supply of the paintings. “Perhaps the collector/vendor didn’t need others to know that this was coming from Benaras. A whole lot of the property was underneath litigation,” says Singh.
The manuscript which was revamped a interval of 18 years (1796–1844) by a whole bunch of artists, is layered with meanings and contexts. The pure visible aesthetics make it much more overwhelming. Interactive parts, a holographic expertise of the Kanchana Chitra Ramayana and an set up giving a glimpse of Ramnagar’s Ramlila make it extraordinarily partaking.
(The present is on at MAP, Kasturba Street, Bengaluru, until March 8, 2024. Tickets are priced at Rs. 50 onwards)