Rama with Sita and Lakshmana Leaving The Palace of Ayodhya for Exile

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

Rama with Sita and Lakshmana leaving the palace of Ayodhya for exile (c. 1605) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

The folio visualises a key event from the epic Ramayana, when the prince of Ayodhya, Rama is exiled to the forest for fourteen years. 

The decision of King Dasaratha to crown his eldest son, the worthy and beloved prince Rama, as the heir to the throne, sparks a series of disastrous happenings.

Upon her maid’s instigation, Kaikeyi, the youngest queen of Dashratha and stepmother to Rama, is consumed by anger and jealousy, and insists that the king fulfills two promises unconditionally given to her upon her timely and courageous help in a battlefield. Kaikeyi demands that Rama be exiled to the forest for fourteen years, and that Bharata, Kaikeyi’s son be declared as the heir to the throne.

Sunk in misery, Dashratha is torn between his duty to uphold his promise to Kaikeyi, and unwillingness to subject Rama to this harsh and unjust punishment. 

Rama however voluntarily takes up the punishment of a self-imposed exile of fourteen years to uphold the honour of his father’s vow.

Rama’s decision is supported by his younger step brother Lakshmana, and Rama’s wife Sita, who willingly accompany him to the forest.

In this artwork, against the backdrop of the high walls surrounding the city, Rama, accompanied by Lakshmana and Sita, have left the palace to proceed to the forest in a chariot in the upper left.

Lakshmana purposefully pulls the reins of the chariot..

..and Rama gazes ahead gesturing his resolute determination..

..while the dutiful Sita casts her gaze demurely downwards.

A mood of despondency the engulfs the city; unable to bear the departure of their beloved prince, and unwilling to lose sight of him, the inhabitants of Ayodhya gloomily trail the chariot of Rama.

A diverse conglomeration of the humanity follows the exiled royals; men of courtly stock wear the jama and the style of turban worn at the contemporary Mughal court of Akbar.

Some take a horse, and others, like a poor old Brahmin, determinedly trudge on foot. Young or old, rich or poor, the inhabitants are united in their grief.

Emotions are perspicuously conveyed by nuanced gestures and poses - in a poignant but futile gesture, a man dressed in dark blue seems to call the departing royals.

Affecting his anguish, the man next to him, dressed in a white jama, places hand on his heart.

People stare with vacant and aghast expressions, their hands expressing their stunned dismay at the sudden misfortune that has engulfed the kingdom.

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