Embroidery in silk on polished cotton
31 1/2 x 11 13/16 in. (80 x 30 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1995 (1995.331)
This rare example of early Nepalese embroidery features scenes from the sixth bookthe dramatic climaxof the great Indian epic, the Ramayana. The embroidery illustrates one of the most famous episodes of the sacred book, the death of the giant Kumbhakarna, brother of King Ravana, the villain. In the top panel, Kumbhakarna is brought to the battlefield in Ravana's wagon for the final assault. The ten-headed and multiarmed king is depicted in blue, while his brother is shown in white. In the central panel, Rama, an heroic incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, rendered in a dark green skin, shoots Kumbhakarna with his bow and arrow; to his left, his brother Lakshmana joins the assault by raising a weapon overhead. Below, in the final section, the rakshasas, giant demons of Lanka, mourn the death of the fallen hero.
Certain elements in this embroidery suggest a cultural tie to China. Its cloud-collar shape is familiar from Chinese ceramics of the fifteenth century, and the technical sophistication belies a similar debt. The style of the piece, however, with its shallow space and registers of figures, is most indebted to India. It is possible that this fragment once served as one of several banners attached to the top of a ceremonial canopy.