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Stories of Rama's youth
Place of Origin: India, West Bengal state
Date: approx. 1875-1900
Object Name: Scroll
Materials: Opaque watercolors on paper mounted on cloth
Dimensions: H. 119 1/2 in x W. 24 1/4 in, H. 303.5 cm x W. 61.6 cm
Credit Line: Gift of Anne H. Spink
Department: South Asian Art
Collection: Painting
Object Number: 2010.465
On Display: No

Description

Label:

This painted scroll would have been carried from village to village by a storyteller-priest who narrated the stories in public performances. The scroll was unrolled scene by scene as the storyteller's narrative unfolded. Such paintings not only served as visual aids but simultaneously provided affirmation of the mythic world they represented. Moreover, the recitation of religious stories and the audience's participation through listening and viewing were means by which worshipers could demonstrate their piety and accrue religious merit.

The series of events depicted here comes from a northeastern Indian version of the Hindu epic known as the Ramayana, which dates back more than two thousand years. The epic tells the story of Rama, the seventh incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. Rama was born on earth as a prince in order to protect the world from the demon Ravana. Filled with tales of family intrigue, rivalries, and battles, this text remains an important vehicle for transmitting Hindu religious and philosophical thought as well as models of moral behavior. This scroll narrates stories of Rama's youth, tales that are not prominent in popular narratives of the Ramayana. As is typical of scrolls from Bengal in northeastern India, the episodes unfold in a linear fashion.

• In the topmost (damaged) scene, a sage is shown performing a sacrifice on behalf of King Dasharatha, who desires a male heir. As a result of the sacrifice, the sage receives a bowl of sweetened rice that contains fertility-inducing properties.

• In the second scene, the sage arrives at King Dasharatha's court to give him the fertility potion. Dasharatha in turn distributes the rice among his three wives, shown standing in the palace pavilion, who will all bear  him sons.

• The third event depicted in this scroll takes place years later, when another sage visits King Dasharatha. Troubled by demons, the sage asks Dasharatha for permission to enlist the aid of one of his sons, Rama, in order to destroy the demons that have been attacking the sages' offerings.

• The fourth scene shows Rama and his favorite brother leaving with the sage, while Dasharatha and his three wives bid them farewell.

• The next scene shows Rama successfully slaying Tataka, a troublesome female demon.

• The sixth scene combines two stories: on the viewer's left, a woman who has been cursed to turn into a stone is restored to her human form by Rama. On the right, Rama is shown in an encounter with a boatman who insists that he wash Rama's feet before Rama steps onto the boat, for fear that Rama's touch might turn his boat into a woman too.

• The last scene of the scroll does not relate to Rama's youth. Instead, it foreshadows the childhood of Vishnu's next reincarnation, as Krishna. Young Krishna is accompanied by his brother and sister. They are shown not as characters engaged in the actions of a story, but in the rigid, formal guise of deities presenting themselves for worship.


More Information

Exhibition History: "Telling Tales: Illustrated Storytelling Scrolls", Tateuchi Gallery, April 21 - October 21, 2007
Label:

This painted scroll would have been carried from village to village by a storyteller-priest who narrated the stories in public performances. The scroll was unrolled scene by scene as the storyteller's narrative unfolded. Such paintings not only served as visual aids but simultaneously provided affirmation of the mythic world they represented. Moreover, the recitation of religious stories and the audience's participation through listening and viewing were means by which worshipers could demonstrate their piety and accrue religious merit.

The series of events depicted here comes from a northeastern Indian version of the Hindu epic known as the Ramayana, which dates back more than two thousand years. The epic tells the story of Rama, the seventh incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. Rama was born on earth as a prince in order to protect the world from the demon Ravana. Filled with tales of family intrigue, rivalries, and battles, this text remains an important vehicle for transmitting Hindu religious and philosophical thought as well as models of moral behavior. This scroll narrates stories of Rama's youth, tales that are not prominent in popular narratives of the Ramayana. As is typical of scrolls from Bengal in northeastern India, the episodes unfold in a linear fashion.

• In the topmost (damaged) scene, a sage is shown performing a sacrifice on behalf of King Dasharatha, who desires a male heir. As a result of the sacrifice, the sage receives a bowl of sweetened rice that contains fertility-inducing properties.

• In the second scene, the sage arrives at King Dasharatha's court to give him the fertility potion. Dasharatha in turn distributes the rice among his three wives, shown standing in the palace pavilion, who will all bear  him sons.

• The third event depicted in this scroll takes place years later, when another sage visits King Dasharatha. Troubled by demons, the sage asks Dasharatha for permission to enlist the aid of one of his sons, Rama, in order to destroy the demons that have been attacking the sages' offerings.

• The fourth scene shows Rama and his favorite brother leaving with the sage, while Dasharatha and his three wives bid them farewell.

• The next scene shows Rama successfully slaying Tataka, a troublesome female demon.

• The sixth scene combines two stories: on the viewer's left, a woman who has been cursed to turn into a stone is restored to her human form by Rama. On the right, Rama is shown in an encounter with a boatman who insists that he wash Rama's feet before Rama steps onto the boat, for fear that Rama's touch might turn his boat into a woman too.

• The last scene of the scroll does not relate to Rama's youth. Instead, it foreshadows the childhood of Vishnu's next reincarnation, as Krishna. Young Krishna is accompanied by his brother and sister. They are shown not as characters engaged in the actions of a story, but in the rigid, formal guise of deities presenting themselves for worship.


Exhibition History: "Telling Tales: Illustrated Storytelling Scrolls", Tateuchi Gallery, April 21 - October 21, 2007