Prince Rama Meets Wounded Jatayu While He Searches For His Abducted Wife Sita

A scene from the Ramayana, the Indian epic that follows Prince Rama's quest to rescue his beloved wife from the demon King Ravana

By National Museum - New Delhi

Rama during his search of Sita meets wounded Jatayu and comes to know that Ravana abducted Sita (Late 18th Century) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

While Rama is tricked into hunting a magical golden deer, Sita, his beloved wife is abducted by the demon king Ravana.

Upon killing the deer, Rama discovers that it was the demon Mareecha in disguise, and quickly proceeds towards their dwelling, fearing the worst.

The artist uses variations in scale to delineate the individual scenes of the continuous narrative that unfold the events.

On the top left, Rama gesticulates his surprise upon encountering his brother Lakshmana who was tasked to protect Sita in his absence.

Despite using a smaller scale to depict the figures, the expressions on their faces and gestures articulate their surprise and confusion.

In the middle foreground an anxious Rama peeks into the little hut looking for Sita.

Upon seeing the empty hut, a distraught Rama frantically searches for Sita, and according to the Ramayana asks every plant, tree and animal her whereabouts.

In a frenzied search for Sita, Rama runs from “tree to shrub, from hill to hillock, from river to rivulet”, and restlessly roves “around woods, rivers, hills, mountain-rapids and thicketed forests”.

He is depicted in the folio on the lower right asking a deer what happened to “that fawn-eyed” Sita, while Lakshmana looks for her near the meandering brook at streams past their cottage on the bottom right.

In the middle foreground behind a hillock, the two brothers spot Jatayu, who lies bleeding, his wings and claws hacked, near a convoluted heap of Ravana’s destroyed chariot.

Breathing his last, he informs Rama about the abduction of Sita.

Upon Jatayu’s death, Rama ritually cremates Jatayu in a funeral fire, performing the prescribed rites, and the artist depicts the two brothers as diminutive figures near the rivulet performing the rites, while swirling flames envelop the dead Jatayu.

The wisps of smoke blow left towards the celestial figure hovering in his golden chariot in the sky, depicted on the top, who waits to take Jatayu to his heavenly abode.

An undulating mass of smoothly-rolling mountains and hills dominate the composition and structure of the visual narrative. 

The solid mass of the hillocks are balanced by delicate, leafy trees and blossom sprigs, and shrubs and grass that dot its valleys and crevices, and the charming hut nestles amidst the thicket of trees in the centre.

An exquisite intricacy of detail marks very part of the folio - the curling spirals and waves of the stream, the wisps of smoke, finely rendered feathers of Jatayu and the delicate foliage that embroiders the landscape.

Credits: All media
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