According to the Ramayana, the demon-ascetic Maricha was enlisted by the demon king of Lanka Ravana to avenge his sister Surpanakha’s humiliation at the hands of Rama. Rama’s brother Laxmana had spurned Surpanakha’s enticements by cutting off her nose and ears.
Maricha was assigned the task of luring Rama and Laxmana away from Sita. In their absence Ravana planned to abduct a defenseless Sita and carry her away to his kingdom in Lanka.
Maricha magically transformed into a beautiful golden deer, and grazed near Rama’s forest dwelling so that he could be spotted by Sita. Sita was enraptured by the dazzling golden deer and entreated Rama to get it for her.
With Rama in hot pursuit, the deer-Maricha gamboled deep into the forest. After a long chase, Rama finally killed the deer.
The painted leaf interprets the animation of the chase with remarkable economy. The painter isolates the two protagonists and sets them against a hot yellow background.
The rich yellow background is only punctuated with a narrow strip of blue demarcated with white marking the horizon at the top.
The flat monochromatic background of the painting sets off the figures while the sparse visual details encapsulate the main event of the scene, so that all attention is focussed on..
..the spiritedness of the chase.
The ground is marked by delicately rendered tufts of grass sprouting at uniform intervals, forming a decorative pattern.
Delicacy of linework is also marked by in the daintily rendered leaves of trees interspersed within the dense thickets of trees.
The artist remains close to the text of the Ramayana to depict the scene.
In the third book of Valmiki’s Ramayana, the Aranyakanda, the magical deer is described as a beautiful golden deer with silver spots with hundreds of jewels - sapphires, amethysts, moonstones and black jets studded on its lithe, resplendent body, and when the deer moved it dazzled like the sun.
Similar markings on the body of the painted deer suggest the glittering jewels embedded in its body.
The line work is exquisite, the colouring strong and brilliant and a sense of liveliness pervades the leaf.
The fleeing deer seems to be borne on air as it leaps out bursting with buoyant energy.
In contrast, a self-assured Rama’s one foot is firmly placed on the ground and he takes a leap just about to gear up to shoot an arrow towards the leaping deer.
Rama chasing golden deer Maricha by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi