Prince Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana was won with the aid of the monkey and bear armies. Here, the blue-skinned Rama is seated in front of a curved pavilion with the monkey and bear kings, Sugriva and Jambavat, who stand before him with folded hands. The page comes from a copy of the Ramayana probably made for the Mughal courtier Bir Singh Deo of Datia.
Four folios from the Ramayana (nos. 2002.503, .506, .505, .504)
The Indian epic poem Ramayana recounts the tale of the legendary prince Rama and his battle against Ravana, the king of the demons, which Rama fought and won with the aid of the monkey and bear armies. In contrast to other Ramayana manuscripts of this period, which were translated into Persian at the order of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605), this particular series retains its original Sanskrit text, an indication that it was probably made for a Hindu patron. Its provenance from the Datia collection and the existence of pale traces of drawings on the reverse in a Datia style suggest that the patron may have been the wealthy Bundela Rajput noble Bir Singh Deo Bundela (d. 1627). Bir Singh was prominent at the Mughal court, supporting Prince Salim in his rebellion against Akbar and infamously remembered as the assassin of Abu’l Fazl. As a court noble he was able to patronize Mughal-trained artists (although ones of lesser fame than those in the employ of the emperor) in the practice known as subimperial patronage, which is confirmed here by the characteristic simplified Mughal style of these paintings.
These painted folios were never bound with a continuous text; rather each illustrated leaf had selected passages written on the reverse. Damage from a fire soon after the completion of the series explains the irregular shape of the pages, but their essential compositions and palpable liveliness still survive. The series contained an unknown number of painted folios executed by a group of minor artists, who have been associated with other subimperial projects and who may have been dismissed from the imperial atelier at the end of Akbar’s reign. The multiple hands involved drew upon a variety of sources—both from the imperial Mughal style and from farther afield—and contributed an inventive approach to pattern and space. As a result, the manuscript has a richly flavored character, which is reflected in the Metropolitan’s folios, some of which show influences from Persian models as well as Indian styles.
The brilliant red color and oversized Chinese ribbon cloud seen in "Rama Receives Sugriva and Jambavat" (no. 2002.503)) reflect the strong palette and forms of Rajput painting and contrast with the more classically restrained Mughal approach in "Kumbhakarna in the Golden City of Lanka" (no. 2002.504). Understated emotion is conveyed in "The Death of King Dasharatha" (no. 2002.506), which shows the blind king’s three wives pulling their hair loose in an expression of grief. Also seen on other folios, the juxtaposition of patterns here appears to be a throwback to Mughal projects of an earlier period such as the Hamzanama. Oversized clouds and the employment of the figure style suggest that the artist might have been the same as in the previous folio depicting Rama. "The Court of Ravana" (no. 2002.505), which shows the ten-headed demon and his son Indrajit holding durbar, is the most unusual in style, with a bolder, less refined handling of the demons, who are nonetheless appealingly characterized. The Persianate div models upon which the demons are ultimately based, the blue-and-white-tiled iwan arch in the background, and, more remotely, the tiered composition indicate that the artist was aware of Shiraz and other Persian painting styles. In the folio depicting Ravana’s brother, the giant Kumbhkarna, being awakened by demons, similar div figures are treated in a far more refined manner.
1. All four folios here are published: Navina Haidar in Topsfield 2004, pp. 360, 367, figs 159–62. Further pages from the same series are on pp. 354–55, figs. 157–58. Further leaves from the same series are illustrated in the following: Chandra, P. 1957–59; Chandra, P. 1960, fig. 16; Gairola 1970, no. 8; Portland and other cities 1973–74, nos. 24, 34; Washington, D.C. 1981–82, p. 130, fig. 18; London 1982a, nos. 6–7; London 1982b, pp. 82–83, 205, no. 382; New York and other cities 1984–87, no. 15; London, Washington, D.C., Zurich, and Oxford 1991–93, no. 4; Pal 1993, nos. 83 a-b; Pal 1997, no. 38; Goswamy and Bhatia 1999, pp. 46–47, no. 36 and front cover ill.; Seyller 1999, figs. 12–13; Philadelphia 2001, no. 16; Turin 2010, p. 156, no. 142.
2. John Seyller in Philadelphia 2001, no. 16, discusses this series and speculates on artists.
3. Seyller, ibid., points this out.
Datia Royal Collection, India; Private collection, Calcutta (from 1947); Private collection, Europe; [ Terence McInerney, New York, until 2002; sold to MMA]
New York. Asia Society. "In the Realm of Gods and Kings: Arts of India, Selections from the Polsky Collections and The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 14, 2004–January 2, 2005, no. 159.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Ramayana," July 6, 2005–October 9, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gods and Demons," November 14, 2006–March 4, 2007.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Epic India: Scenes from the Ramayana," March 30, 2010–September 19, 2010.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fifty Years of Collecting Islamic Art," September 23, 2013–January 26, 2014, no catalogue.
Topsfield, Andrew, ed. "Arts of India." In In the Realm of Gods and Kings. London; New York: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2004. no. 159, pp. 354–355, 360–361, ill. pp. 355, 361, (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 249A, pp. 339, 356-357, ill. p. 357 (color).