Ramayana has taken many forms and inspired hundreds of artists, who have captured the epic on canvas, on stone and celluloid while there is no dearth of literature on the subject. “Ramayana in Painting, Sculpture, Popular Arts and Crafts and Book” is an exhibition presenting some of the mediums in which Ramayana has been told across India and South-East Asia.
The paintings, oleographs, photographs, sculptural pieces and craft products on view are from historian Dr. Nandita Krishna’s private collection, reflecting not just the collector’s discerning eye but also a pursuit of the Ramayana as a historical phenomenon. Dr. Amrithalingam, biologist, and Dr. P. Sudhakar, taxonomist, have provided valuable inputs to identify and match the flowers, trees and plants mentioned in Valmiki’s Ramayana with the ones which grow in these regions today. The evidence is supported by evocative photographs.
Superb 5-6 feet tall bronze icons of Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman, crafted by Swamimalai artisans greet one at the entrance, setting the tone. As a centre piece on the floor stands a huge tableaux of the Ramayana and Rama’s route in his life’s journey, created out of canvas, paper, thermocol and old kolu dolls by artist Venkatesh Prem. With place names and depiction of mountains and rivers, it tells a folksy yet well-researched story and should be of particular interest to the young.
The walls display Ravi Varma’s beautiful oleographs, first prints, which unfold Rama’s story from ‘Ram Janam,’ to ‘Sita Kalyanam,’ Sita’s abduction, Jatayu vadh and so on.
The story continues with Cherial paintings featuring vignettes in bright vegetable colours, Thanjavur and glass paintings as well as Kangra miniatures.
The exhibition also has rare photographs of ‘Chitra Ramayana’ panels painted in the miniature style during the Nayak era featuring Bala, Aranya and Ayodhya kandas. Also very rare are paintings done on the walls of the Rama temple in Kumbakonam.
Ramayana done in Odisha’s Patachitra genre, in Gond art style and the vibrant Madhubani tradition also form part of the exhibition. The South Asian experience comes in the form of wooden Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman figurines, Thai puppets, and photographs of Hanuman on the walls of Angkor Vat etc.
The section on the flora and fauna makes for fascinating viewing. Valmiki describes in detail the trees, flowers, birds and animals of the regions that Rama traversed during his fourteen years of exile. Interestingly they match exactly with the flora still found in these geographical regions.
According to Dr. Nandita Krishna, “Valmiki describes tropical deciduous forests in great detail in Chitrakoot, lotus ponds and dry deciduous forests in Kishkinda (which would be the Hampi of today) – all of which exist today. Valmiki refers to lions and tigers in Chitrakoot which surprised me. However, when I visited the area I found in the prehistoric Bimbiketa caves images of tigers and lions.”
The Ramayana Exhibition is on at C.P. Arts Centre, 1, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, till February 24.