The Finest Surviving Illustrated Manuscript – The Mewar Ramayana

Every year, Roli Books organizes an exhibition celebrating the big book of the year. For the year 2016, this book was the Mewar Ramayana – the finest surviving illustrated manuscript. The exhibition was held at Bikaner House, which comes under the aegis of the Government of Rajasthan.

One of the most-loved and popular epics of India, the story of Ramayana was first told in the Sanskrit epic poem of Valmiki some two and a half thousand years ago. Since then it has been told and retold for centuries through many cultures and languages in India and beyond. However, the most beautiful retelling of the legend has been the seven illustrated manuscripts prepared for Maharana Jagat Singh, the ruler of Mewar, between 1649 and 1653. With more than 400 paintings created through close collaboration between teams of painters and a single scribe copying the text, this is one of the finest works ever commissioned by a Hindu ruler.

As part of its annual exhibition, Roli Books presented the paintings of Mewar Ramayana, also known as Jagat Singh Ramayana, as illustrated in the seven volumes commissioned by the ruler of Mewar. Most volumes of the manuscript are now in the British Library. Other parts have remained in India, held today in three separate institutions – the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute in Jodhpur; Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai; Baroda Museum – and one private collection. The paintings have been collected from all these sources and were brought together for the first time ever in this exhibition. Over 60 paintings from the illustrated Ramayana were displayed at the Bikaner House from 26th October 2016 – 13th November 2016.

Over 60 paintings from the illustrated Ramayana were displayed at the exhibition

Unveiling of the book at Bikaner House. From Left to Right: Mr. Pramod Kapoor (Publisher, Roli Books), Guest of Honour – Amitabh Kant, Chief Guest – Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, and authors of the book Ramayana: Sumedha V. Ojha and Jerry Losty

Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar at the exhibition

Guest of Honour, Amitabh Kant speaks at the opening ceremony

Sumedha V. Ojha, co-author of Ramayana signing a copy

The exhibition was also accompanied by the book titled Ramayana, published by Roli Books.

The text in this volume is based on Valmiki’s Ramcharitmanas, as retold by the well-known historical-fiction author Sumedha V. Ojha, and begins with an Introduction by J.P. Losty, former Curator-in-charge of the extensive Indian visual collections at the British Library in London.

Below are a few prints that were displayed at the exhibition and are also a part of the book.

The four princes, Ram, Bharat, Lakshman and Shatrughn are reunited after defeating Ravan. They bathe, shave and resume their royal attire, ready for their duties. The Pushpak Viman flies back to its owner Kuber. YUDDHA KANDA ©British Library

Ram and Ravan are locked in mortal combat. The gods send Indra’s chariot and his charioteer Matali to aid Ram. As soon as Ram cuts off Ravan’s head another one grows in its place. Finally Ravan is dead! YUDDHA KANDA ©British Library

With almost all his best warriors dead in the battle with Ram and his vanar sena, Ravan sends his army to wake Kumbhakaran from his sleep to fight Ram and Lakshman. YUDDHA KANDA ©British Library

Hanuman flies to the Himalayas to bring back life-giving herbs from the magical mountain. The herbs hide themselves, thus angering Hanuman, who uproots the entire mountain. YUDDHA KANDA ©British Library

The devas in heaven approach Lord Brahma for help against the rakshasa king, Ravan, who had overrun the three worlds causing death, ruin and devastation. BAL KANDA ©Private Collection

Ravan sees a beautiful ascetic princess Vedavati who is praying to Lord Vishnu to accept her as his wife. Ravan forces himself upon her but she jumps into a fire, cursing him that she will be reborn as Seeta in her next life and be the cause of his death. UTTARA KANDA ©British Library

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