Miniature paintings carry Rama through centuries

Ratna Venkat

Those who are familiar with Ramayan would know that this epic centres on the ‘Journey’ of Lord Rama (worshipped by Hindus as the seventh Incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and his heroic deeds on earth.

However, when one hears ‘The Story of Rama’, the transition from being divine to being human is proposed, and overall has a different interpretation by non-devotional eyes.

The Auckland Art Gallery (Toi o Tāmaki) is proud to present the latter, ‘The Story of Rama’, an exhibition comprising 101 Indian Miniature paintings from the National Museum in New Delhi, which was opened for public viewing on Saturday, September 5, 2015.  It will run till Sunday, January 17, 2016.

Valmiki’s Epic

The exhibition features 24 regional Indian miniature painting styles dating between the 17th and 19th centuries, and are arranged to reflect the traditional division of the story into seven Kandas (cantos or books), similar to the format of ‘Ramayana’, written by the sage-poet Valmiki around the 5th to 4th century BC.

It begins with Rama’s birth as a prince of Koshala, describes his marriage to Sita, their exile from Koshala, the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana, and her rescue by Rama with the help of his brother Lakshmana and Lord Hanuman, the ‘Monkey God.’

At the end of the sixth Kanda, Rama and Sita return to Koshala triumphant and are welcomed by people. His return home is marked by celebrations with thousands of oil lanterns as an expression of joy. The occasion is also marked as ‘Diwali,’ the Festival of Lights.

Privileged Gallery

Auckland Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport said that the Gallery is privileged to exhibit Rama’s story for the first time here.

“This is the largest collection of historical Indian art ever shown in New Zealand. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to offer this exhibition free of charge to our visitors,” she said.

She added that the timing of the exhibition was perfect as it will coincide with the Diwali celebrations, reaching out to other communities in which ‘The Story of Rama’ will evoke cross-cultural interest and awareness.

“By sharing the rich cultural and artistic heritage of India through this exhibition, we are able to demonstrate our commitment to reflecting Auckland’s dynamic and rich cultural diversity”, Ms Devenport said.

Intriguing Kanda

However, it the Seventh Kanda that will be the most intriguing for both Hindus and non-Hindus as this last part alienates the otherwise divine nature of Rama’s story and journey. Though an Avatar of Lord Vishnu, viewers will witness through the paintings that Rama was, after all, a human being who had to adhere to the laws of karma since his birth and was therefore bound by complex emotions.

The nature of these Indian miniature paintings helps to slightly shift that paradigm from ‘Lord Rama’ as a God-like figure to ‘Rama’ as an extraordinary human character.

Religious confluence

The miniature paintings are a confluence of Hindu and Islamic traditions, whether in the way the artistes painted them in their respective regional styles, or whether in the depiction of certain facial features and attire, is up to the viewers to find out by getting up close and personal with each of the 24 paintings on display.

Human qualities

Sanjiv Mittal, Director-General of the National Museum in New Delhi says that this exhibition, apart from introducing Indian art and culture to New Zealand citizens, will also spread Rama’s story and the qualities for which he was known.

“In addition to ruling a Kingdom, he also ruled for justice, truthfulness and righteousness, and he is at the core of all values in the hearts of people”, he said.

‘The Story of Rama’ aims to take the viewer on a journey, shedding light on Rama’s journey through the miniature paintings.

Lord Rama’s descend as a human on earth implies the nature of life and the trials and tribulations that come equipped with it.

Nevertheless, his courage in facing them will hopefully remind people by the turn of Diwali that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

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