Ramayana in Art

Select artefacts from Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.

Valmiki Reciting the Ramayana to His Pupil Bharadvaja, Folio from the "Shangri" Ramayana (Adventures of Rama) (circa 1700-1710) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

What is the Ramayana?

Ramayana is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and an important text of Hinduism, the other being the Mahabharata. The epic is ascribed to Maharishi Valmiki, which narrates the life of Rama, a legendary prince of Ayodhya city in the kingdom of Kosala, in North India. The epic follows his fourteen-year exile to the forest urged by his father King Dasharatha, on the request of Rama's stepmother Kaikeyi; his travels across forests in the Indian subcontinent with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana – the king of Lanka, that resulted in war; and Rama's eventual return to Ayodhya to be crowned king amidst jubilation and celebration. Rama is  considered to be an ideal prince and an embodiment of all virtues and his wife Sita the epitome of conjugal love and fidelity.

The Siege of Lanka, Folio from a Ramayana (Adventures of Rama) (circa 1800) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

An epic story

The Ramayana is one of the largest ancient epics in world literature.  The narrative of the Ramayana took place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga in 5301 BC. It consists of nearly 24,000 verses, set in the Shloka/Anustubh metre,  divided into seven kandas,  Balakaṇḍa, Ayodhyakanda, Araṇyakanda, Kiṣkindakanda, Sundarakanda, Yuddhakanda, and about 500 sargas  (chapters), the first and the seventh being later additions. It belongs to the genre of Itihasa, narratives of past events puravrtta, interspersed with teachings on the goals of human life. Scholars' estimates for the earliest stage of the text range from the 7th to 4th centuries BC with later stages extending up to the 3rd century CE.

Doll:Ramayana & Sita of Traditional Thai Theater (1980-2008)The Strong National Museum of Play

Cultural impact

The Ramayana was an important influence on Sanskrit poetry and Hindu life and culture. The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, 
Bharat, Hanuman, and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of the South Asian nations of India, Bangladesh,  Nepal, Sri Lanka and the South-East Asian countries Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Rama is worshipped as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The epic has been adapted into plays and films; it is also enacted every year by local troupes  in North India during the Dussehra festival of the present times.

Lakshmana Cuts the Nose of the Demoness Surpanakha, from a Ramayana (19th century)Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art

Different adaptations

Multiple modern, English-language adaptations of the epic exist. There are many versions of Ramayana in Bengali, Malayalam, Telegu, Kannada, and other Indian languages, besides Buddhist, Sikh and Jain adaptations. It has also inspired secondary literature in various languages. The Ramavataram, composed by the Tamil poet Kamban in the 12th century CE, is popular in the southern parts of India. In the north, the Ram Charit Manas, composed by the Awadhi poet Tulsidas, is extremely popular.

Rama's Court, Folio from a Ramayana (Adventures of Rama) (1775-1800) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Ramayana in Art

Ramayana has been depicted in many paintings, notably by Indian and the Indonesian (Balinese) artists. The story and episodes of Ramayana have been captured on various media like textile, rock, stone, terracotta, and wood, ivory and in miniature paintings from different Schools of India. There is a Ramayana panel on the staircase at Kailasa temple, Ellora, Maharashtra, intricately carved. There is stone panel at Nagarjunakonda in Telangana depicting Bharata's meeting with Rama at Chitrakuta (3rd century CE). Scenes from the epic can be seen on the walls of some of the oldest temples across Asia.The epic has captured the imagination of modern artists as well.

Salar Jung Museum (2000/2010)Salar Jung Museum

The Salar Jung Museum collection

The museum has an interesting collection on depiction of episodes from the various parts of the Ramayana. The media are also various and include, textile, terracotta, metal, wood, ivory, miniatures and modern paintings on paper. There are also dispersed pages pages of illustrated manuscripts depicting the epic.


Let us take a journey through select artworks on the Ramayana in the museum’s collection!

A folio from a Ramayana manuscript (1790/1790)Salar Jung Museum

A folio from a Ramayana manuscript

The illustration is in three panels, lady attendants guiding two sages, three young princes sitting inside the palace, waiting to learn.  In the second panel two sages and a young prince, probably Rama, standing before a seated king, painting from Jodhpur, dated to circa 1790.

Sita Swayamvaram (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Sita Swayamvaram

A carved wooden panel of Sita Swayamvaram. The right portion represents Janaka, Sita with garland, Rama bending the bow and Laxmana. The left side portion shows four figures; Sage Vishwamitra, Rama, Lakshmana and demoness Thataki, from India, dated to the 19th century.

Scene from Ramayana (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Scene from Ramayana

Arya Sumantra, prime minister of Ayodhya meeting Rama. Rama and Sita under a canopy, Lakshmana behind them. They are seen also near the entrance. In 2nd panel, Rama and Laxmana are outside on a chariot, in 3rd panel they are seen entering the gate, in the last panel they are seen touching the feet of their father, probably taking leave. People including sages and few others with folded hands are also depicted. This painting is from Jaipur, dated to the 19th century.

Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana going to the forest (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana going to the forest

Painting representing Rama going to the forest with Sita and Lakshmana with trees, mountains and birds in the background with trees on either side, from Jaipur, dated to the 19th century.

Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Guha the boatman (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Guha the boatman

Ivory group of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and the boatman Guha who takes them across the Ganges, depicted on a wooden boat having an ebonite sail, on a wooden base, artefact from India, dated to the 20th century. 

Scene from the RamayanaSalar Jung Museum

Scene from the Ramayana

Decorative panel with ten Hindu mythical figures and floral designs worked out in repousse depicting a scene from the Ramayana. Hanuman, Sugriva along with Rama and others with a varadhi (bridge) are shown, made in copper, from South India.  

Lord Rama meeting Sage Sarabhanga (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana meeting sage

 An illustration from Ramayana, depicting the meeting of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita with Sage Sarabhanga in the Dandaka forest, Paithani painting, dated to the 19th century.   

Lord Rama resting (1880/1880)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Rama resting

A painting depicts Rama reclined on Sita's lap and Lakshmana picking out a thorn from Rama's foot in the forest. Swords, bows, quivers and a bagged deer are seen in the middle. This Sikh School painting is dated to circa 1880.

Scene from Ramayana (1775/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Scene from Ramayana

Painted to represent meeting with the vanara (monkeys) who are seated and standing before Rama and Lakshmana and some monkeys are on the mango trees. The monkey army offers to help find Sita in the epic who has been kidnapped, painting from Jaipur, dated to the late 18th century.

Saat saal episode (1710/1710)Salar Jung Museum

'Saat Saal' Episode

A folio from a Ramayana manuscript, Rama proves his power to Sugriva by shooting the arrow through seven 'Saal' trees. Lakshmana stands behind with a bow in his right hand and an arrow in his left. This painting belongs to Marwar, dated to circa 1710. 

Panel from Ramayana (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Panel from Ramayana

Panel from Ramayana shows Sita sitting under a tree at Lanka. Hanuman handing over the ring in presence of demons, in terracotta, from Bankipore, dated to the 18th century.

REDEMPTION OF AHALYA (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Redemption of Ahalya

Episode from the Ramayana, depicting the redemption of Ahalya by Lord Rama. This miniature is from Malwa, dated to the 18th century.  

Temple Hanging with Ramayana theme (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Temple Hanging

Kalamkari panel representing the epic Ramayana, with beautiful figures and Telugu script. This curtain is from Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh, unique in workmanship and artistically prepared in red, blue, white, black colours, dated to the 19th century.   

Lanka Kanda from Ramayana (1635/1635)Salar Jung Museum

'Lanka Kanda' from Ramayana

Painted on both sides, illustration from the Lanka Kanda section of Ramayana depicts Ravana with ten heads and twenty hands, Ravana is approached by a lady and some people are looking on, a Mughal school painting, dated to circa 1635.        

Lanka Kanda from Ramayana (1635/1635)Salar Jung Museum

'Lanka Kanda' from Ramayana

Painted on both sides, illustration from the Lanka Kanda section of Ramayana depicts Ravana with ten heads and twenty hands approached by a group of people. Hindi inscription on top, a Mughal school painting, dated to circa 1635.       

Hanuman subduing Surasa, (female demoness). (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Hanuman subdues demoness

This paintings depicts Surasa's encounter with Hanuman from the Ramayana. Surasa is the mother of the nagas who has to test Hanuman on his way to Lanka. A Paithani painting, dated to the 18th century. 

Illustration from Ramayana (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

lllustration from Ramayana

Illustrated leaf from Ramayana painted on both sides, Hanuman meeting Rama and Laxmana with monkey army, text on top and right, dated to the 18th century.  


Illustration from Ramayana (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Illustration from 'Tulasi Ramayana'

An illustration from Tulsi Ramayana showing war scenes between the vanara sena and Ravana, text on top, dated to the 18th century.

Illustration from Tulasi Ramayana (1650/1650)Salar Jung Museum

An illustration from 'Tulasi Ramayana'

Illustration from Tulsi Ramayana showing war scenes between the vanara sena and Ravana, a painting from Banaras, dated to circa 1650.   

Illustration from Tulasi Ramayana (1650/1650)Salar Jung Museum

An illustration from 'Tulasi Ramayana'

Illustration from Tulsi Ramayana showing war scenes between the vanara sena and Ravana, a painting from Banaras, dated to circa 1650.

Scene from Ramayana (1750/1750)Salar Jung Museum

Scene from Ramayana

This painting shows Rama and Lakshmana attacking the ten-headed Ravana with arrows, with Hanuman in the background.  Three other monkey warriors flying in the sky and attacking Ravana's palace,  from Rajgarh, dated to circa 1750.    

Scenes from Ramayana (1600/1699)Salar Jung Museum

Scenes from Ramayana

Painting in three panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana, from India, dated to the 17th century. 

Ganjifa card of Ramavatara (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Ganjifa playing card from a 'Dasavatara' set

Ganjifa, painted to depict the Ramavatara of Lord Vishnu, Rama shooting arrows at Ravana the demon-king with ten heads. Rama is shown wearing a red lower garment and Ravana is shown wearing a red  upper garment and striped trousers, from Samantwadi, dated to the 19th century.

Sri Rama-pattabhishekam (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Shri Rama-pattabhishekam

Scene of coronation of Lord Shri Rama; Rama seated with Sita on a throne with Hanuman at his feet. Also depicting Saptarishis on one side and Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna on the other, Vanara nobles like Vibheeshana and Sugreeva, Angada and Neela are also seen. The painting is decorated in gold work and coloured glass base in a wooden frame, from Tanjore, dated to the 19th century.

Coronation of Rama (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Coronation of Rama

The central panel depicts Rama and Sita seated on the throne, attended by two chowri bearers, one chattra holder, and three attendants at the bottom. Hanuman at the feet of Rama,  painting from Tanjore, dated to the 18th century. 

Sage Vashisht entering into Rama's palace (1800/1825)Salar Jung Museum

Sage Vashisht entering into Rama's palace

Painting depicts Sage Vashisht entering Rama's palace at lower left, in the middle, the guru getting down from the two-horse driven cart, is seen entering the third gate of the palace. Rama, Sita and Laxmana are seen kneeling before the guru with folded hands. At the top right, the guru is seated and Rama is touching his feet while Sita and Lakshmana are standing, from Jaipur, dated to early 19th century.

Ram Darbar (1800/1825)Salar Jung Museum

Ram Darbar

Rama and Sita seated under a canopy on the throne with a bolster at their back. Rama holding a bow in his right hand and an arrow in his left. Two attendants standing behind them, one  holding a flywhisk. An attendant standing towards his left holding a quiver in left hand, mace is on his right. A noble and three vanara nobles before them. This painting is from Kangra, dated to the early 19th century.

Credits: Story

Text and Curation : Soma Ghosh
Photography : M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali
Research Assistance : Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh
Special Thanks to : Dr. A. Nagender Reddy, Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.


References -

1. https://www.worldhistory.org/The_Ramayana/

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramayana

3. Panda, N.C (ed)2014 Ramayana of Valmiki, Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan

4.Nagar, Shantilal(2001) Miniature paintings on the Holy Ramayana, Delhi: B R Publishing Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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