Art News & Views

Discovery: Andhra Paintings of the Ramayana

Discovery of the Andhra Paintings of the Ramayana in the Museum Collection by Jagdish Mittal and his art historical engagement to establish its origin and style.

by  Koeli Mukherjee Ghose

In 1962 many miniatures were found in the store of the State Archaeology, Museum in Hyderabad, The Andhra paintings of Ramayana, were found by the scholar Padmasree Jagdish Mittal while he was helping the Museum in classifying undisplayed collections. Kept in bundles along with the other miniatures these works were not classified by chronological sequence or by schools.

A leading authority of Indian miniatures and folk bronzes, Jagdish Mittal had attained Diploma from Visva Bharati, Santiniketan. Founder of the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad - a Public Charitable Trust since 1976, the Museum is known for its collection, built through the years.

In the preface of the publication - Andhra Paintings of the Ramayana he writes “I was invited in 1962 by the Archaeology and Museums to evaluate and date the miniature paintings in the State Museum Hyderabad."

The Ramayana paintings were first noticed by him in the store, according to him these were acquired by the Museum thirty years ago.

Reflecting upon the emergence of miniature painting in the South, Jagdish Mittal writes “The Hindu courts in South India engaged themselves mainly in temple building and enriching their temples and palaces with sculptures and murals.”

He mentions “Only three palm leaf manuscripts were of the early 12th century have yet come to light from the South. They were painted at Mudbidri in South Kanara (Mysore) and illustrate the texts of the manuscripts, Shatakhandagama, mahabandha and Kashyapahuda, dealing with Jain philosophy. The illustrations are actually an extension of the western Indian style in the South with some characteristic features like suggestion for volume, rounded forms use of modeling and profuse use of scrolls.

He informs “However miniature painting was completely unknown in the South and notable specimens, both of individual miniatures and manuscript illustrations are coming to light especially from Mysore and the Tanjavur area but none except the three palm leaf manuscripts are earlier than the 16th Century. The examples of miniatures belonging to the 17th - 18th Century have a certain Baroque vigor, dynamic rhythm and ferocious energy which was subdued whenever influence from the Muslim courts prevailed.

The art of miniature painting gained momentum in India only around 1550 AD with the assistance of Persian artists after the Islamic kingdoms in the North and the Deccan had become established.The new style suited the Muslim taste better than that of the Hindus. In course of time the Mughal style became the main spring of Rajasthani, Pahari and other Schools in North India while the painting of the Deccan influenced to some extent the painting at the Hindu courts in the South."

According to Jagdish Mittal, The Vijaynagar paintings had a role to play in the formation of the pictorial styles of Deccan and South India and also contributed to the unique stylisation of the paintings in the Ramayana manuscript.

The manuscript is essentially a pictorial narration of the Ramayana. The hand written text in black ink are captions, written in Sanskrit using the Telugu script.

Jagdish Mittal draws attention to the fact that although the pictorial depiction follows Valmiki's narrative, they are actually spontaneous descriptions.

Reflecting on the medium of the painting he writes "The paintings are done only on one side of a hand made ribbed foreign paper which is lined with hand woven khadi cloth stuck with tamarind paste to the paper”.

On examining the binding of the manuscript he was of the view  that the binding was not original and the illustrations of one book had got mixed up with another, the sizes of the manuscript sheets also varied, for some the height would exceed 20 cms, the width varied between 13 to15.2 cms.

The war scenes are 208 cm x 25.7 cm in size, all the paintings are mostly of vertical format and the large war scenes are horizontal. The illustrations are precise elucidation of events compliant to the text written on it. Thus the epic tale was conveyed with pictorial eloquence and made comprehensible.

His experience of seeing the miniatures and relating it to similar styles is expressed when Jagdish Mittal points out how the pages are usually divided in two to three panels each depicting multiple events at the same moment he also brings to notice that this feature is common to a few of the Indian and Persian miniatures and in certain early Italian paintings wherein different episodes are presented as though occurring simultaneously. With a similar intent of inducing simultaneity in the pictorial narration, the artists of the Vijayanagar used to divide the pictorial space in panels, these paintings were mostly commissioned to narrate the mythology.

Since the manuscript had no colophon, details such as the name of the artist, owner of the paintings, place where it was painted could not be derived, Jagdish Mittal through a intense stylistic study and inspection of the set of clothes worn by the characters,style of ornaments could provide a clue to the approximate date and provenance of this manuscript. Through a process of scholarly speculation and inference he brings to awareness the location of the painters, their belief, the clientele of such paintings and the probable owner of this manuscritpt. He explicates “Often the people living in the area around the temple of an important deity become devoted to it, which permits the conjecture that the manuscript was produced around one of the Rama temples in Andhra area”. Since the style did not conform to an Islamic - Deccani predisposition he deduced that the probable creators of the manuscript was not from Rajahmundry but from any of the three temples in Anantpur, Chittoor or Nellore.” The manuscript could have been made for a Hindu chieftain or landlord around the middle of the 18th century during the reign of Asaf Jah I (1728 – 48) who governed this territory. The reason why I say it was made for a chieftain is that it is not so elaborate or gorgeous in colouring material and other decorations as manuscripts made for big Rajas used to be.”

The clothing, ornaments and iconography of the characters help to establish that the paintings were not made in northern Andhra or eastern Andhra.He stressed that the work would have had greater influence of the paintings of Orissa during that period if it was from the eastern Andhra.

That Andhra produced miniatures of significant quality in a typical Hindu style is proven from the finding of the Ramayana paintings.The images were later reproduced in a publication of the State Lalit Kala Akademy in 1969 chosen from the original manuscript for their pictorial and compositional sensibility, multiplicity of treatment, subject matter and a purpose to maintain the sequential continuity of the Ramayana.

For a complete understanding of the Ramayana paintings, Jagdish Mittal provided a detailed study of history and the characteristic features of the paintings in the South, in the publication, bringing in to discussion styles of various schools of miniature painting, the aesthetic value of the paintings and a Summary of the Valmiki Ramayana to point at the truthfulness of the narrative in the painted manuscripts. The publication exemplifies the perfect process of documentation of the discovery of the Ramayana paintings, the scholar's engagement in establishing its context through a method of establishing his finding-reinforcing through historical reference. The detailed bibliography, description of plates, a glossary and the map along with illustrations of murals and paintings, for a full understanding of the formation of the style of painting in the Ramayana manuscript, completes the reader's experience of the discovery.

Images Courtesy: The Author


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