AN IMPORTANT ILLUSTRATED MANUSCRIPT OF THE RAMAYANA OF TULSI DAS
AN IMPORTANT ILLUSTRATED MANUSCRIPT OF THE RAMAYANA OF TULSI DAS
AN IMPORTANT ILLUSTRATED MANUSCRIPT OF THE RAMAYANA OF TULSI DAS
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AN IMPORTANT ILLUSTRATED MANUSCRIPT OF THE RAMAYANA OF TULSI DAS
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No VAT on hammer price or buyer's premium. As long as the mountains and rivers shall endure upon the earth, so long will the story of the Ramayana be told among men.
AN IMPORTANT ILLUSTRATED MANUSCRIPT OF THE RAMAYANA OF TULSI DAS

SIGNED BY RAMCHARAN KAYASTH, JAIPUR SCHOOL, NORTH INDIA, DATED VS 1853/1796-97 AD

Details
AN IMPORTANT ILLUSTRATED MANUSCRIPT OF THE RAMAYANA OF TULSI DAS
SIGNED BY RAMCHARAN KAYASTH, JAIPUR SCHOOL, NORTH INDIA, DATED VS 1853/1796-97 AD
Ayodhya Kanda, one of seven volumes of Tulsi Das's Ramayana or Ramcharitmanas, manuscript on paper, 194ff., each with 26ll. of neat black devanagari, important phrases in red, text within double red rules, with 179 finely painted illustrations, each with protecting fly-leaf, with marginal notes and numbering, colophon signed and dated, in cloth covered card binding, loose in binding
Text panel 11 ½ x 7 7/8in. (29.3 x 20cm.); folio 16 x 12 ¼in. (40.5 x 31cm.)
Provenance
By repute, Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi (d. 1858)
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Lot Essay

The Ramayana or the story of Rama’s journey is one of India’s oldest and most popular epics. As well as a great story, it is also an important devotional text. Originally composed by Valmiki in the 5th or 4th century BC, this manuscript is Tulsi Das’s famed version: the Ramcharitmanas, a later vernacular narration of the Ramayana composed in Awadhi dialect in 1574 in Ayodhiya and completed in Benares. Tulsi Das (1532-1623) lived under the reigns of the Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahangir. Emperor Akbar demonstrated a very strong interest for Hindu texts and the earliest illustrated Ramayana that survives today is one that he commissioned circa 1584-88.

In the story, the hero Rama is exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya due to the scheming of his stepmother, Kaikeyi. He is joined in the forest by his beloved wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana. They make their way to Prayaga, where the Ganga and Jamuna rivers meet and where they know Sage Bharadwaja will give them shelter along their journey. During their stay, the sage suggests they settle in Chitrakuta for their exile where Sita, Rama and Lakshmana find a place in which to make their home. Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, dies of a broken heart during his son’s exile. It is these episodes that are described in the present copy. Sita is later carried off by the demon-king Ravana, before being rescued and the royal couple is able to return in triumph to Ayodhya.

A number of illustrated copies of the Ramayana are known, prepared at various royal courts, particularly in Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills. A number of them are in the Jaipur City Palace Museum. However few have survived outside India in complete form and generally only isolated paintings are found. The largest complete copy which includes around 450 illustrations, is known as the Mewar Ramayana. The manuscript is in the traditional Hindu horizontal format and was commissioned by Jagat Singh of Mewar (r. 1628-52). The dispersed volumes have been digitally reunited and are accessible online (https://www.bl.uk/ramayana). Another later copy (one volume only) made for the Maharaja of Jaipur circa 1860, was offered at Christie's, South Kensington, 10 June 2013, lot 200.

The present manuscript contains 179 illustrations. It was originally part of a set of seven volumes and it is likely that the number of illustrations would have equalled those of the Mewar Ramayana. There is no doubt that it was a princely copy on which considerable funds and time were spent. Unlike the Mewar Ramayana however it follows the ‘gutka’ format which is that of a Hindu ‘upright’ and bound manuscript. According to Losty, this format ‘was brought to perfection in the late 18th century, above all in the Jaipur royal Library’ with the aim to equal contemporary Muslim manuscripts (Jeremiah P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India, Bradford, 1982, cat.129, p.145).

An old typed note accompanying the manuscript indicates: “The book was written in the year 1842 of the Sambat Era (1796 A.D.) and is consequently 111 years old. The book was in the possession of the Rani of Jhansi at the time of the Indian Mutiny, and after her death on the battle field, it was taken over by one of her officers. Her house having been set on fire after her fall, six vols. of this book were burnt with her other furnitures, but this one was found uninjured in the debris after the fire was extinguished. This book itself has its own historical value apart from its own significance”. The note also states the manuscript was copied from Tulsi Das's original copy preserved in Rajapur in the Panda district by order of Raja Chhatrasal. Unfortunately, this is likely to be erroneous as Chhatrasal, the well-known warrior and founder of the Kingdom of Bundelkand, died in 1731.

The paintings in this manuscript are the product of an artist and atelier with considerable skills and talent. The colophon gives the name of the artist Ramcharan Kayasth who appears to be unrecorded. However, it is unclear where the manuscript was produced, in Jaipur or elsewhere. The accompanying note suggests that the book was illustrated by Jaipur artists in Bundelkhand but no obvious stylistic element points toward the Central Indian territory. It is towards the Jaipur tradition that these illustrations trace their origin. Some of the facial features, particularly that of Rama enthroned with Sita on one of the first folios, are typically in the Jaipur style of the late 1700s, early 1800s. Whilst many artists worked in a ‘flat’ style derived from the well-known master Sahib Ram (active during the reign of Sawai Pratap Singh, 1778-1803), our artist is obviously very conscious of shading and modelling which suggest other influences. Whilst our manuscript is copied by a Jaipur artist, it might have been executed at another court wherever Ramcharan Kayasth was employed, perhaps at Jhansi as suggested by the provenance note.

This manuscript is said to have belonged to the Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi. Lakshmibai was one of the leading figures of the 1857 Indian Uprising. Jhansi was besieged and raided by British troops in Spring 1858 – it is then that six of the seven volumes of our manuscript purportedly met their fate. The Rani was forced to flee to Gwalior in May 1858 where she died on 17 June 1858.

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