Visualizing the Ramayana
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Presented in association with the Department of Art History, New York University.
Gulam Mohammed Sheikh reflects on the many ways the great narrative cycle of the Ramayana has been visualized over the centuries.
Over the centuries, the Ramayana has been recreated all over Asia. Episodes or characters from the epic in its multiple variations and versions have been depicted in murals, folio pictures, miniatures, scrolls, patas and performing leather puppets. The vast variety of depictions allows the epic to be viewed in plural rather than singular terms. While the images of the Ramayana provide for magical leaps of imagination, they also uncover aspects of the narrative that only a visual representation can reveal - and these, then, offer alternative views and readings of the narrative. The more ambitious and fuller representations of the epic include the Mughal project at the court of Akbar. The Mewar (17th cent.) version of Sahibdin and Manohar has given nuances to the narrative with great élan. The Pahari versions equally stimulate the senses and locate the stories in a realm of their own. The range of the Ramayana's representations - even from what survives – is vast. All we can do is touch on some of them to understand the oral tales and embrace the nuance.
Image: Battle at Lanka, Ramayana, Udaipur, 1649-53, courtesy The British Library