Online Collection

Collections



Asian Art Museum Logo
Scenes from the Burmese version of the epic of Rama
Place of Origin: Myanmar (Burma)
Date: approx. 1850- 1900
Materials: Cotton, wool, silk, and sequins
Dimensions: H. 21 3/4 in x L. 228 1/2 in, H. 55.3 cm x L. 580.4 cm
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Department: Southeast Asian Art
Collection: Textiles
Object Number: 1989.25.1
On Display: No

Description

Label:

This long narrative textile has along its upper edge a large number of tabs by which it could have been hung. Where it would have been hung, and for what purpose, remains uncertain. One possibility is that it served as a backdrop for puppet performances. Photographs of puppet performances in the late 1800s show rather similar sequined narrative backdrops at the back of a puppet stage. Having one narrative depicted on a backdrop while another was performed in front of it had the potential to cause confusion, but apparently it did not.

This hanging shows scenes from the early days of the legendary hero Rama. At the left end the Princess Sita is seen sitting on a couch beneath a tree, attended by her lady's maids. Next she is shown again, seated to one side of a royal pavilion. In the center of the pavilion is her father, the king, and beside him an ascetic, who may be the young hero Rama's teacher.

Sita's father has proclaimed that only the man who can string his miraculous bow will win the hand of his daughter. Beyond the royal pavilion the young hero Rama is shown succeeding with the bow after all other suitors have failed. His faithful brother kneels nearby, watching.

The next scenes are hard to identify. Within another pavilion a crowned demonic figure appears, flanked by two courtiers. The crowned figure is probably the demon king Ravana, who much later in the story abducts Sita. In some Southeast Asian versions of the Rama legend. Ravana hears of Sita's father's challenge and tries his hand at the bow-bending contest. Though he manages to lift the bow, which no other suitors except Rama can do, he cannot bend it to attach the string. After Rama's triumph, Ravana, abashed, returns to his own kingdom.

A little further on a princely figure on horseback approaches the city gate; perhaps another suitor is arriving to try his hand at the bow contest. Behind him, the demonic figure who may be Ravana flies in an aerial chariot. Perhaps he too is arriving for the contest, in a sort of flashback. Next, in what may also be a flashback, Rama and his brother follow their teacher through the forest; they may be arriving to try the bow as well.

Beyond a wavy diagonal line that presumably signals a change of scene, a young man in aristocratic garments is seated next to stylized rocks while two attendants kneel respectfully. This young man, in his red vest and jaunty head wrap, closely resembles one of the figures flanking Ravana in an earlier scene and is presumably the same character, but his identity has not been determined.

Finally, Rama, Sita, and Rama's brother walk through the forest behind an ascetic who appears identical, in his orange robes and hermit's turban, to Rama's teacher, shown twice before. The difficulty is this: Though Rama and his wife and brother eventually go into exile in the forest, many events-not least a grand royal wedding-and many years intervene between Rama's winning Sita's hand in the bow challenge and their entry into the forest for a life among the hermits and wild creatures. Is the narrative here radically condensed, or are the proposed interpretations of the later scenes incorrect?


More Information

Exhibition History: "Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma," Asian Art Museum, October 23, 2009–January 10, 2010

"The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe," Asian Art Museum, October 21, 2015–January 15, 2017
Additional Label:

Here we see Rama’s winning of Sita’s hand in marriage and subsequent events, called out on labels positioned along the artwork. The narrative runs from left to right. This long narrative textile has along its upper edge a large number of fabric tabs by which it could have been hung. It may have served as a backdrop for puppet performances.

Some late-nineteenth-century photographs of puppet performances show rather similar sequined narrative backdrops at the back of a very wide puppet stage.

1. Sita sits to one side of a royal pavilion. In the center of the pavilion is her father the king, and beside him a sage who may be Rama’s mentor.

2. Sita’s father has proclaimed that only a man who can string a famous mighty bow will win the hand of his daughter. Rama is shown succeeding with the bow after all other suitors have failed. His faithful brother Lakshmana kneels nearby watching.

3. These scenes are hard to identify. The crowned figure is probably the demon king Ravana, who much later in the story abducts Sita. In some Southeast Asian versions of the Rama epic, but not in the famous Indian version of Valmiki, Ravana hears of Sita’s father’s challenge and tries his hand at the bow-bending contest. Though he manages to lift the bow, which no other suitors except Rama can do, he fails to bend it. After Rama’s triumph Ravana, abashed, returns to his own kingdom.

4. A princely figure on horseback approaches the city gate. Perhaps this is another suitor arriving to try his hand at the bow contest. Behind him, a demonic figure who may be Ravana flies in aboard an aerial chariot. Perhaps he too is arriving for the contest.

6. Next, in what may be a flashback, Rama and his brother follow their mentor Vishvamitra through the forest; possibly they too are arriving to try the bow.

6. A young man in aristocratic garments sits next to stylized rocks while two attendants kneel respectfully. This young man, in his red vest and jaunty head wrap, has not yet been identified.

7. Finally, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana walk through the forest behind a sage who appears identical, in his orange robes and hermit’s turban, to Rama’s mentor, shown twice before. But in most tellings of the Rama epic Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana do not walk through the forest in the company of Vishvamitra, so what is going on here is uncertain.

(Exhibition Label from The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe)


Label:

This long narrative textile has along its upper edge a large number of tabs by which it could have been hung. Where it would have been hung, and for what purpose, remains uncertain. One possibility is that it served as a backdrop for puppet performances. Photographs of puppet performances in the late 1800s show rather similar sequined narrative backdrops at the back of a puppet stage. Having one narrative depicted on a backdrop while another was performed in front of it had the potential to cause confusion, but apparently it did not.

This hanging shows scenes from the early days of the legendary hero Rama. At the left end the Princess Sita is seen sitting on a couch beneath a tree, attended by her lady's maids. Next she is shown again, seated to one side of a royal pavilion. In the center of the pavilion is her father, the king, and beside him an ascetic, who may be the young hero Rama's teacher.

Sita's father has proclaimed that only the man who can string his miraculous bow will win the hand of his daughter. Beyond the royal pavilion the young hero Rama is shown succeeding with the bow after all other suitors have failed. His faithful brother kneels nearby, watching.

The next scenes are hard to identify. Within another pavilion a crowned demonic figure appears, flanked by two courtiers. The crowned figure is probably the demon king Ravana, who much later in the story abducts Sita. In some Southeast Asian versions of the Rama legend. Ravana hears of Sita's father's challenge and tries his hand at the bow-bending contest. Though he manages to lift the bow, which no other suitors except Rama can do, he cannot bend it to attach the string. After Rama's triumph, Ravana, abashed, returns to his own kingdom.

A little further on a princely figure on horseback approaches the city gate; perhaps another suitor is arriving to try his hand at the bow contest. Behind him, the demonic figure who may be Ravana flies in an aerial chariot. Perhaps he too is arriving for the contest, in a sort of flashback. Next, in what may also be a flashback, Rama and his brother follow their teacher through the forest; they may be arriving to try the bow as well.

Beyond a wavy diagonal line that presumably signals a change of scene, a young man in aristocratic garments is seated next to stylized rocks while two attendants kneel respectfully. This young man, in his red vest and jaunty head wrap, closely resembles one of the figures flanking Ravana in an earlier scene and is presumably the same character, but his identity has not been determined.

Finally, Rama, Sita, and Rama's brother walk through the forest behind an ascetic who appears identical, in his orange robes and hermit's turban, to Rama's teacher, shown twice before. The difficulty is this: Though Rama and his wife and brother eventually go into exile in the forest, many events-not least a grand royal wedding-and many years intervene between Rama's winning Sita's hand in the bow challenge and their entry into the forest for a life among the hermits and wild creatures. Is the narrative here radically condensed, or are the proposed interpretations of the later scenes incorrect?


Exhibition History: "Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma," Asian Art Museum, October 23, 2009–January 10, 2010

"The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe," Asian Art Museum, October 21, 2015–January 15, 2017
Expanded Label:

Here we see Rama’s winning of Sita’s hand in marriage and subsequent events, called out on labels positioned along the artwork. The narrative runs from left to right. This long narrative textile has along its upper edge a large number of fabric tabs by which it could have been hung. It may have served as a backdrop for puppet performances.

Some late-nineteenth-century photographs of puppet performances show rather similar sequined narrative backdrops at the back of a very wide puppet stage.

1. Sita sits to one side of a royal pavilion. In the center of the pavilion is her father the king, and beside him a sage who may be Rama’s mentor.

2. Sita’s father has proclaimed that only a man who can string a famous mighty bow will win the hand of his daughter. Rama is shown succeeding with the bow after all other suitors have failed. His faithful brother Lakshmana kneels nearby watching.

3. These scenes are hard to identify. The crowned figure is probably the demon king Ravana, who much later in the story abducts Sita. In some Southeast Asian versions of the Rama epic, but not in the famous Indian version of Valmiki, Ravana hears of Sita’s father’s challenge and tries his hand at the bow-bending contest. Though he manages to lift the bow, which no other suitors except Rama can do, he fails to bend it. After Rama’s triumph Ravana, abashed, returns to his own kingdom.

4. A princely figure on horseback approaches the city gate. Perhaps this is another suitor arriving to try his hand at the bow contest. Behind him, a demonic figure who may be Ravana flies in aboard an aerial chariot. Perhaps he too is arriving for the contest.

6. Next, in what may be a flashback, Rama and his brother follow their mentor Vishvamitra through the forest; possibly they too are arriving to try the bow.

6. A young man in aristocratic garments sits next to stylized rocks while two attendants kneel respectfully. This young man, in his red vest and jaunty head wrap, has not yet been identified.

7. Finally, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana walk through the forest behind a sage who appears identical, in his orange robes and hermit’s turban, to Rama’s mentor, shown twice before. But in most tellings of the Rama epic Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana do not walk through the forest in the company of Vishvamitra, so what is going on here is uncertain.

(Exhibition Label from The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe)