Valmiki meditating on the banks of River Tamas

UnknownEarly 19th Century

National Museum - New Delhi

National Museum - New Delhi
New Delhi , India

The folio is an opening page of an illustrated series on the epic Ramayana, authored by the sage Valmiki. The scene describes the event that inspired the sage into writing the great epic. Pondering over the manner in which he should retell the story of Lord Rama, the incarnate of the Hindu God Vishnu, the sage proceeds to the River Ganga, coming to the stream Tamas for his daily ablutions. Here according to the narrative in the Ramayana, he spots two cranes mating. Valmiki is filled with horror and profound sorrow, when a hunter spying the cranes, hunts and shoots the male crane. The verses of the Ramayana, are said to have emerged spontaneously aroused by Valmiki’s intense grief and are suffused by Karuna rasa, the aesthetic essence of pathos according to the Indian Aesthetic system of the nine Rasas.

The painter of the illustration depicts the scene with masterly skill. Imbued with dull hues of pale pinks, mellow greens and dull greys evoking the innate pathos of the characters, the painter bathes the scene with a melancholic vision.

The painting is a masterpiece in composition - the gracefully twisted form of the dying crane is echoed in the bow of the hunter, who countering the extinguishing life force of the crane, animatedly pulls at the taut string. The scene centres upon the sage Valmiki dressed in a pale pink garment, who looks up observing the anguished cries of the female crane swerving around its dying mate on top of the painting. Valmiki sits on a deer skin below a tree, whose upturned branches seem to reverberate the torment of the cranes and the old sage. Not everyone is as touched by the scene as Valmiki, however. His young disciples unperturbed carry on with their ablutions - one pouring water on his feet while the other diving into the swirling waters, his submerged form revealing the transparency of the clear waters.

Everything in the painting is rendered with incredible delicacy of the brush. Delicate white and green reeds line the river. With astonishing surety, fine lines render the face and the hair of the old sage, the spiralling ripples of the waters, the dainty leaves on the trees and huts on the distant meadows. The God of learning and wisdom, Ganesha, is iconically depicted in a cartouche, underscoring the fact that the Sage Valmiki moved by the mortal separation of the cranes would soon embark upon writing the epic Ramayana, and seems to bless his incipient endeavour. The cartouche depicting Ganesha, however, is most likely a later addition to the painting.


  • Title: Valmiki meditating on the banks of River Tamas
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Early 19th Century
  • Physical Dimensions: 24 cm x 35 cm
  • Accession Number: 80.627

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