Rama and Lakshmana Overwhelmed by Arrows: Folio from a Ramayana 'Siege of Lanka' Series
Attributed to Manaku (active ca. 1725–60)
India (Guler, Himachal Pradesh)
Ink on paper
Page: 23 1/2 x 33 in. (59.7 x 83.8 cm)
Image: 22 3/8 x 31 1/2 in. (56.8 x 80 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1919
Not on view
"Rendering himself invisible by virtue of the boon he received from Brahma, [Indrajit, the son of Ravana] . . . loosened sharp arrows bright as lightening on Rama and Lakshmana . . . [so] not a hair's breath on their bodies was not lacerated, pricked and pierced by these irresistible darts." The Ramayana tells us that the shafts resembled serpents, a metaphor the artist rendered literally, depicting writhing snakes covering the bodies of the two fallen heroes. Surrounding them are the distressed monkey and bear armies that carry boulders and trees in preparation for their defense.
In this unfinished preparatory drawing the artist, Manaku, brilliantly conveyed the essence of the narrative. We can only imagine how much more powerful a work it would have been if finished in the characteristically robust palette of the early eighteenth-century Guler style, as seen in Rama Releases the Demon Spies Shuka and Sarana and The Monkey Leader Angada Steals Ravana's Crown from His Fortress.
About the Artist
Manaku Active at the court in Guler ca. 1725–ca. 1760; son of Pandit Seu, brother of Nainsukh, father of two sons, Fattu and Khushala
The painter Pandit Seu worked in Guler, Himachal Pradesh, and together with his two sons Manaku and Nainsukh, he dominated one of the most exciting periods of Pahari painting. Manaku remained more indebted to his father’s style, while Nainsukh studied Mughal painting extensively and left the court in Guler to work for other patrons. Manaku, the older of the two brothers, produced a true masterpiece in 1725, his illustrations to the last part of the Ramayana, the so-called Siege of Lanka series. In that work, he continued the large-format Ramayana series that his father had begun, developing new compositional solutions for the depiction of complex narrative scenes. The young Manaku painted with the sure hand of a seasoned practitioner, and his talent, attested by his drawings, was immediately celebrated. Around 1730, he produced a series of 150 folios on one of the central texts of Krishna worship, the Gita Govinda. No illustrations for that text had been painted before in the Pahari region. Created for a Lady Malini, the series represents the crucial turning point in Manaku’s early work. It presented a considerable challenge to understand all the subtleties and complexities of the text and to develop appropriate compositional solutions. An especially beautiful example is Manaku’s visualization of the textual passage describing the south wind cooling itself in the Himalayas.
Manaku’s work borrowed from that of his father, Pandit Seu, in its formal repertoire, especially visible in conventions for rendering trees and faces and in its compositions with monochrome backgrounds and high horizon lines with white and blue washes. Only in his later works did more realistically painted elements become more evident.
The artistic legacy of the brothers Manaku and Nainsukh was taken up by their sons. A series attributed to Manaku’s son Fattu, from around 1760, reveals considerable borrowing from Manaku’s work, while the style of other known works by the sons of these brother artists is more reminiscent of that of Nainsukh.
[ Ananda K. Coomaraswamy , Boston, by 1919, sold to MMA]