Published Jul 15 2013, by

Illuminated leaves from the Ramayana

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Embodied in the stories of the Hindu trimurti (triad) of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer), Hinduism has a rich history in the use of allegory on multiple levels. The most popular and recognizable epics in this great literary tradition are the ancient heroic tales of the Maha-bharata and the Ramayana. The latter focuses on the story of the hero Rama, whose salvation of the world takes him on a series of grand adventures from Earth to the heavens and beyond. It remains a popular subject in the arts of India to this day.

These six illuminated book leaves depict scenes from the Ramayana. The obverse of each sheet of parchment has been painstakingly illuminated with pigments on gold leaf and embellished with gold leaf, a technique that came from the West and was embraced by the Persian rulers of the Mughal period. The reverse face of each sheet displays a flowing script in Farsi, the classical language of Persia (Iran), which is still spoken today. The imagery on these six leaves tells of the episode in the Ramayana when Rama enlists the aid of the monkey army and their king, Hanuman, in his quest to rescue his kidnapped wife, Sita, and to defeat the demons threatening the gods. The hero is depicted in Hanuman’s stronghold, gathering his warriors and making forays into a mountainous landscape illustrated in vibrant colors. Such lively imagery resonated well with Kashmiri audiences, due in part to the long-established oral tradition present in the region for centuries.