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Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

RAMA EMBRACES SUGRIVA ON HEARING THE MIGHTY DEEDS OF THE GATHERED MONKEYS
India (Kulu or Bahu)
circa 1700-1710
Height: 17.6 cm
Width: 29.8 cm

Opaque watercolour heightened with silver on paper.

An illustration from the Shangri Ramayana, Book IV, Kishkindhakanda, chapter 39, sarga (verse) 9, folio 142.

On hearing about the mighty deeds of the monkeys gathered by Sugriva, Rama embraces him. (1)  

Inscribed on the reverse “kishkindha 142” in devanagari and “142” in takri.

This charming painting from the Kishkindhakanda or “Monkey Chapter” of the Ramayana shows Rama warmly embracing Sugriva, the King of the Monkeys, with Hanuman and Laskhmana in attendance.  Rama has just been told of the mighty deeds of the monkey forces gathered by Sugriva.   On the left can be seen the vast monkey army assembled by Sugriva to look for Sita.  On the right are Vinata, the monkey general, and two bears, Jambavan and a bear general.   The important monkeys and bears wear lotus crowns to indicate that they are the leaders and generals of their troops.  Rama and Lakshmana carry bows and arrows; the lack of strings in their bows adds to the delicacy of the painting.

Rama has helped Sugriva regain the monkey kingdom of Kishkindha by killing his brother Bali (Vali).  In return, Sugriva has agreed to assist Rama in his search for Sita, who has been captured by the demon king Ravana.   However, once Sugriva is installed as king, he indulges in sensual pleasures with his wives Tara and Ruma, loses all track of time and sense of responsibility, and forgets his promise to Rama.  Months go by and Rama hears nothing from Sugriva.  He waits with increasing desperation and sadness during the rainy season, unable to bear the absence of his beloved Sita and disappointed by Sugriva’s lack of attention to his cause.(2)

Finally, the rains end and autumn arrives, bringing with it the appropriate time and conditions for action.  Hanuman, Sugriva’s trusted minister and great general, reminds Sugriva that he can delay no longer and urges him to honour his word.  Realising the urgency of the situation, Sugriva makes a quick decision and instructs his commanders to assemble monkeys from every corner of the ancient monkey empire to build a huge army to assist Rama in his quest.  Within two weeks, the monkeys arrive at Kishkindha in their thousands of millions.  They are just in time to appease Lakshmana who has entered Kishkindha in a rage, angry that nothing has been done.  Laskhmana is pleased to see Sugriva’s gathered forces.  He accepts Sugriva’s sincere apologies and admittance of his transgressions, and takes him to meet Rama.  Ravana’s countless demon hordes cannot be defeated without the assistance of this vast monkey army.  A huge army of bears, led by their king Jambavan, has joined the monkeys to strengthen their troops.

With joined palms, Sugriva prostrates himself before Rama but the delighted Rama, his countenance resembling the blue lotus in flower, raises Sugriva to a seated position and embraces him.  Sugriva tells Rama that he has assembled monkeys feared for their valour and celebrated for their exploits; immense monkeys the size of clouds that can blot out the sky; ferocious monkeys familiar with the woods and inaccessible forests; monkeys who are the sons of gods and gandharvas and can change their forms at will; monkeys from the rivers, seas and mountains, of every colour from black to gold; all fearsome and powerful with sharp nails and teeth, endowed with extreme energy and roaring voices that rumble like thunder; all ready to be of service to Rama.  Rama is amazed by the assembled forces that cover the entire surface of the earth as far as the eye can see and embraces Sugriva with great affection.

This painting comes from the great series known as the “Shangri” Ramayana.  It was first discovered in 1956 by M.S. Randhawa in the collection of Raja Raghbhir Singh of Shangri, a town in the Kulu valley.  Raghbhir Singh, a descendant of the Kulu royal family, owned 270 pages of this magnificent Ramayana that have since been dispersed.  In 1973, William G. Archer attempted to give a historical justification for the Kulu origins of the work.  He grouped the paintings into four different styles, which he identified as Shangri Styles I-IV.(3)  In 1992, B. N. Goswamy and  Eberhard Fischer challenged the Kulu attribution and reassigned the paintings to Bahu, the capital of a branch of the royal Jammu family.  This was on account of similarities in the physiognomies of the characters to portraits of Raja Kripal Dev and Ananda Dev of Bahu as well as their courtiers and attendants.(4)  The Kishkindhakanda is executed in Shangri Style III.  Recent scholars such as Darielle Mason suggest that the Kishkindhakanda may have been completed in Mandi, close to the Kulu valley; others such as Joseph M. Dye retain the Kulu provenance.(5)

Provenance:
Mandi Royal Collection
Private German Collection

Acknowledgement:
We would like to thank Alka Bagri for her expert advice and kind identification of the scene.

References:
1. Textual reference: Kishkindhakanda, Book 4, sarga (chapter) 39, verse 9. (Princeton Scholars, Translations of the critical Baroda edition of the Ramayana.)
2. The story is complied from Arshia Sattar (abridged and trans.), Valmiki: The Ramayana, 1996, pp. 343-366; and Hari Prasad Shastri (trans.), The Ramayana of Valmiki, 1953 & 1962, vol. II, chapters 38 and 39.
3. W. G. Archer, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, 1973, vol. I, pp. 317-329.
4. B. N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer, Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India, 1992, pp. 76-79. 
5. Darielle Mason, Intimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2001, p. 88, cat. no. 29; Joseph M. Dye III, The Arts of India, 2001, pp 332 and 333,  cat. nos. 136a and 136b.

all text & images Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

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