Ashvina marks the transition from the months of monsoons to those of shivering winter, from the months of longer days and shorter nights to those of longer nights and shorter days, from the days of confining within the four walls to the days when normalcy returns and life transcends home’s four-walls, gods wake and good spirits, those of ancestors and others, descend on the earth, accept propitiations and bless; the month when kings toured their lands and kingdoms and planned their expansion and development; and the month when divine powers manifested in various forms, such as Devi in Nava or nine Durga forms and people resorted to their worship aiming at both, the worldly success and transcendence. So charged with energy and spirit is the month of Ashvina that tradition believes that even Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi resort to dance and in the cosmos reveal its reflections. Lovers equate Ashvina with Kalpataru, the wish-fulfilling celestial tree, and the beloved asks her lover not to leave home and her for by disallowing her wish he shall violate the spirit of the month of Ashvina and thus sin against it.
For visualizing the month of Ashvina the artist of this folio takes recourse to the depiction of Dashahara, one of Indian community’s major festivals occurring around the later part of the month of Ashvina. As the scriptural tradition has it, it was on Dashahara that Lord Rama had killed Ravana, Lanka’s demon-king, in a fierce battle. After battling against Ravana for long Rama began feeling that Ravana was growing invincible and he would not be able to kill him and redeem Sita, his consort, from his clutches. Thereupon Jambavan, the minister of Kishkindha’s monkey king Sugriva, advised Rama for performing nine days long worship of Devi by which he would acquire the ability to kill Ravana. Accordingly Rama began his worship rites on the first day of the Shukla-paksha of Ashvina – later half of the month comprising white nights. The ritual was concluded on Mahanavami – the great ninth day, which he accomplished by making final sacrifice. The next day, that is, Dashahara, the tenth day of Ashvina’s Shukla-paksha, he entered into battle against Ravana and killed him.
Most of the Rajput states celebrated Dashahara not only as their principal festival but, as here in this miniature, also in the fashion identical to Rama’s legend. Towards the bottom on the left there is Devi’s shrine to which three courtiers are paying homage, and a fourth one is sacrificing a buffalo, symbolic of demon Mahisha. After the worship rites have been performed, a huge army comprising elephant riders, horsemen, pedestrians, and others march towards the bottom’s right where the artist has created a model of Lanka fortress which Ravana is presiding. On his right lies Kumbhakarana, his brother known to sleep for six months in one stretch, and on his left, his wife Mandodari. The fortress also houses some of Ravana’s demon courtiers. Palace-inmates are showering flowers on the marching army as the token of their moral support to its victory, and from the terrace pavilion the king, along with his consort, is signaling its departure by waving a golden flywhisk.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.