A Rare Representation of The Demon King Ravana

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

Ravana, the King of Lanka (Early 19th Century) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

This exceptional and unconventional painting from Kangra, depicts Ravana, the mighty demon King of Lanka, presented in a manner that is reserved for the representation of a deity enshrined for worship as is widely rendered in Indian miniature painting. 

Such a deity-like manner of representation of Ravana is very rare in Indian art.

The Valmiki Ramayana describes Ravana as “One who has twenty arms, ten faces and a broad chest, and a possessor of all regalia of Indra, the god of kings”. 

Enthroned, the Valmiki Ramayana describes him as a spectacular sight to behold - “attired and bejewelled in sumptuous jewels”, “shining forth with marvellous garlands” and likened to the magnificent image of “the Sun in firmament on the supreme golden throne”, and whose appearance itself is “catastrophic”, resembling Kala, the “Ultimate-Time”, that sits with a “wide gaped mouth” waiting to engulf all creation into its being.

Ravana is described in various texts as fearsome demon, blessed by the god of creation Brahma to remain invincible in battle..

..against gods or celestial creatures such as Gandharvas and Asuras, or sages and exalted souls, birds, or reptiles, or other monstrous creatures, but is ultimately defeated by an incarnation of the god Vishnu as mortal - Rama, the prince of Ayodhya.

Tradition has him to be very wise and learned. He is believed to have been a worshipper of the god Shiva and composed the mantra of Shiva Tandava Stotra in his praise, as well as written a treatise on Hindu astrology called the Ravana Samhita.

Ravana is depicted in the folio with his ten heads spread out in a long horizontal row one next to the other crowned by a fourteen-peaked coronet.

In his numerous arms he holds various weapons arrayed in a circle around his body..

..which seem to whirl around him like little planets encircling him.

He is seated on a sumptuously rendered jewel-studded gilt throne..

..and a heavily bejewelled parasol with strands of hanging pearls shelter him and mark his royal status.

Attired in a pink dhoti with a white cummerbund woven with gold encircling his waist, a pale yellow wrap similarly gold woven twists around his bare torso. 

The painter masterfully renders with exquisite detail the minute folds of the dhoti that fall gracefully over the crossed legs ending in a dainty, scalloped arrangement.

Equally fascinating is the precision and workmanship of the cloth spread out over the throne..

..the barely perceptible shading on the hands or the face..

..and the resplendent ornamentation of the throne and the parasol.

Pitched against a stark red background, and contrasted by a white cusped niche encircling his form, he presents an awe-inspiring image.

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