According to the Ramayana, god Shiva had gifted a celestial bow to King Janaka of Mithila. King Janaka set the condition that he would marry his daughter Sita to the person who would be able to string Pinaka, the bow of the god Shiva. According to the epic, the celestial bow of Shiva could not be even approached by selfish individuals and was not liftable by ordinary mortals. Therefore the act of stringing the bow would be a test to distinguish the exceptional strength and virtues of the one who could accomplish the feat.
In the assembly of the court of King Janaka, Rama effortlessly lifted the bow and stringed it, and then, stretching the bowstring to examine its tautness, Rama unintentionally broke the bow, the sound of its breaking resounded like thunder and the earth trembled.
The artist sets the narrative in an open courtyard ensconced within walls where a gathering of hundreds of courtiers of King Janaka witness Rama’s celestial feat. The drawing is washed with soft sanguine and green. The artist unfolds the narrative in receding planes depicting charming little vignettes of the assembly. In the foreground Rama is depicted as pulling the string taut, and the artist skilfully depicts the bow being stretched beyond its capacity, just about to break with thin strands of the bow splitting due to the stretching.
The elephant in front of him bows down and a man on the bottom left rushes to put up a ladder. Rama’s breaking of the bow and the movement of the elephant mark this spot as the most active and dynamic area in the painting, which becomes successively more passive with each receding plane.
In the centre, Sita bashfully garlands Rama, choosing him as her husband upon his display of the heroic feat, and the broken bow lies near their feet.
King Janaka is surprisingly depicted as seated aloof from the proceedings of the event in the far top left, surrounded by a few courtiers, with an attendant flying a fly whisk over him, as a mark of his royalty.
In the middle foreground, an elderly courtier respectfully bows before Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother and sage Vishvamitra seated on the left. The sage Vishvamitra, the guru of the princes Rama and Lakshmana, like king Janaka, is depicted as uninterested in the proceedings, deep in thought, his gaze downwards.
The brush work is controlled and fluid, and the artist is at relative ease in his depiction of perspective and recession of space.