Indian manuscript of Ramayana reunited after 150 years

The Mewar Ramayan

The 17th century illustrated manuscript of the Ramayana, the Mewar Ramayan, has been digitally reunited. In this image Rāma, his wife and brother, ride off in a chariot driven by Sumantra and are surrounded by the grieving townspeople.

Indian manuscript of Ramayana reunited after 150 years

31 March 2014

By Naomi Canton

A centuries-old illustrated manuscript of an ancient Hindu epic has been reunited for the first time in more than 150 years thanks to a collaboration between the British Library and a museum in Mumbai, India.

The Mewar Ramayan, considered to be one of the most beautiful and lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the Ramayana, had originally consisted of more than 600 folios but they were split more than a century ago between organisations in the UK and India.

But now thanks to a major partnership between the British Library and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS Museum) in Mumbai, the 17th century illustrated manuscript has been digitised and is available for anyone in the world to view online.

It contains more than 370 stunning paintings relating to the Hindu legend of Rama and Sita that every Indian learns during childhood. According to the epic tale, Rama, the son of King Dasaratha, is banished to the forest for 14 years despite being earlier promised the throne. Then his beloved wife Sita is abducted by the ten-headed demon king Ravana. He eventually finds her, slays Ravana and returns to be crowned King of Ayodhya.

Now for the first time, people around the world will be able to digitally explore the pages of the original Mewar Ramayana manuscript, commissioned by the Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar in 1649 and produced at his court studio in Udaipur.

The Mewar Ramayana manuscript was created by several artists, whose intricate paintings of gods, battles, landscapes and animals count as among the finest examples of Indian art.

Alongside the illustrations are more than 800 pages of text in Sanskrit.

Four of the Ramayana books were presented to Lt. Col. James Tod by Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar in the early 19th century. He in turn donated them to the Duke of Sussex following his return to Britain in 1823 and the remaining books became dispersed over time between collections held in the UK and India.

The digital Mewar Ramayana, which can be found here, enables users to turn the pages online in the unbound style reflecting the traditional Indian loose-leaf format.

Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General of CMSVS Museum said: “We feel proud to be the prime collaborator in the digital reunification of Maharana Jagat Singh’s Ramayana. This unique and pioneering project will allow everybody, and research scholars in particular, to study, evaluate and appreciate the dispersed folios of the manuscript in one place.”

The Mewar Ramayan, considered to be one of the most beautiful and lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the Ramayana, now in digital format

The Mewar Ramayan, considered to be one of the most beautiful and lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the Ramayana, has been digitally reunited. In this image Daśaratha tells Rāma he will make him king and Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa then depart to their palace in a chariot to prepare for the ceremony.

The project, which has been three years in the making, is sponsored by the Jamsetji Tata Trust, the World Collections Programme, and the Friends of the British Library.

A spokesman for the Jamsetji Tata Trust said: “The project is unique as it is not just across India and UK but reunites the beautiful 17th century manuscript using digitisation and technology to enable wider access to a global audience. “

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said: “This partnership with CSMVS Museum is an innovative example of what can happen when organisations work together with a common aim to widen access to their collections. I am delighted to celebrate the continued strong cultural links between Britain and India.”

The Mewar Ramayana project is part of a larger British Library aim to develop resources for the study and understanding of the shared history and culture of the UK and India. Since signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Ministry of Culture in 2010, the Library has worked closely with Indian research communities and institutions and has led collaborative projects including the digitisation of 10,000 historical images of Indian botany, and a major exhibition on Indian history Mughal India: Art, Culture & Empire.

Don’t miss the chance to find out more about Indian’s contribution to the Great War at the Closing Night of the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival on 21 May. For more details click here.