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Ramayana Manuscripts on View at Metropolitan Museum

Through October 3, 2010

The Ramayana –The Story of Rama, one of the great epic narratives of South Asia literature, is the focus of an installation on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through September 26. Showcasing 30 brilliantly polychromed paintings and pictorial textiles that depict episodes from the narrative, Epic India: Scenes from the Ramayana explores the magical power embodied in this ancient prose-narrative text that has so captured the imagination of Indian artists from early in the history of Indian art. The exhibition is drawn largely from the Metropolitan Museum's own collection, with some major loans from a New York private collection. The paintings on view were produced mostly during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Hindu court ateliers of Rajasthan, western India, and the Punjab Hills; others are of northern Indian provenance in a Sub-Imperial Mughal style.

The Ramayana is a Sanskrit epic consisting of 24,000 verses in seven books. Its original version is attributed to the poet-sage Valmiki (ca. 400 B.C.). The epic is an endearing classic tale of love, romance, human frailty, and righteousness; it recounts the adventures of Rama, his wife Sita, his brother Lakshmana, and his staunch ally and devotee Hanuman, who are pitted against the forces of Ravana, the evil king of the island Lanka. This narrative, which has a happy ending, provides a philosophical platform for examining the nature of morality, kingship, and divinity in Indian society that endures to this day.

Highlights of the installation include a large-scale painting attributed to Manaku, depicting the episode in which Rama pardons Ravana's demon spies, and beautiful pictorial narratives describing miraculous events, such as Hanuman carrying a mountain peak through the sky in order to bring medicinal herbs to his injured lord Rama. The finest known 11th-century (Chola period) bronze sculpture of Hanuman is a centerpiece of the installation, along with a newly acquired 18th-century painted textile depicting the final combat of Rama and Ravana, each displaying an armory of supernatural weapons.

Epic India: Scenes from the Ramayana is organized by John Guy, Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, assisted by Kurt Behrendt, Assistant Curator, both of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Asian Art.

The installation is featured on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.

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July 2, 2010

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