An Embroidered Temple Hanging With Scenes from Ramayana Nayaka Period

Explore the details of the epic story on this indigo temple hanging from South India

By National Museum - New Delhi

Embroidered temple hanging with scenes from Ramayana Nayaka Period (1775/1825) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

This grand temple hanging, illustrating a Ramayana theme, is a significant example of embroidery from South India, a region better known for its kalamkari tradition.

The seven figurative panels of this hanging are on indigo-dyed cotton..

..and these alternate with madder-dyed panels that have floral and geometric embroidery, and applique and fish motifs.

The central panel portrays a scene from the ‘Ramapattaabhisheka’ or the coronation of Rama. A crowned and bejeweled Rama sits on a double-lotus throne with Sita. Sheshanaga forms a canopy over Rama.

At the base of the throne, Hanuman sits adoringly at Rama’s feet.

Saints are performing Rama’s jalabhishika (a consecration ritual with holy water) while attendants stand with chauris (fly whisks) and umbrellas.

The monkey-king Sugriva, as well as other courtiers and warriors, stand nearby.

The central panel is flanked by six other panels, three on either side, in each of which a large figure stands as witness to the central coronation scene.

Each figure is framed by a cusped arch; there are stylized peacocks and flowers in the spandrels and floral garlands hang from the ceiling to decorate the space.

To the left of the central panel we see the three-headed, four-armed Brahma holding a kamandalu (spouted vessel) and a rosary; the second panel has a chieftain; and the third depicts Jaya, a fanged guardian figure with a snake under his foot.

To the right of the central panel we see Indra, marked by the many eyes on his body, and holding a vajra.

The next panel has a chieftain holding a sword, and the third portrays a guardian figure, Vijaya, who, like Jaya on the other side, holds a club and stands with his foot raised above a snake. All of these figures are crowned and bejeweled and wear dhotis and double patkas.

Above and below the large panels run narrow borders that intricately narrate episodes from the Kishkinda and Sundarakandas of the Ramayana, Ramacharitamanasa and Kamba Ramayana. Images of the seated, four-armed Yoga Narasimha occur at the start and end of both the border panels.

In the lower border, four scenes out of eleven are based on the Kishkindakanda; the rest are based on the Sundarakanda. After the framing image of Yoga Narasimha, the narrative scene starts with Rama speaking to Sugriva..

That Hanuman’s deeds are shown in such detail in this hanging, and the fact that he is shown with a kudumi or a lock of hair that is the mark of an orthodox Hindu, suggests that patron who commissioned this hanging might have been a devotee of Hanuman. 

The hanging is embroidered with a great variety of stitches such as running stitch, stem stitch, satin stitch, herringbone stitch, filling, couching, cross stitch, sindhi stitch, long- short, chain stitch, French knot and feather stitch.

The linear quality of the figures in the central panel is more refined in comparison to the border figures. It resembles the temple stone sculptures and the wall paintings of Vijayanagara and Nayaka sites. 

In contrast, the border figures appear to be in a more folkish style and have some similarities with the leather puppets of Karnataka.

The large size of the hanging and its creative execution gives the impression that this temple hanging was commissioned by royalty or by a chieftain of the Nayaka period. It was perhaps used to decorate a Vaishnava temple, and artists from different regions may have worked on this piece.

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