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This pata-chitra, a cloth-painting on fine Orissa silk, representing coronation of Rama, is one of the finest examples of the stylistic blend of different art traditions and classical and folk idioms. With broad features of Orissa pata-chitra, its cardinal style, the painting assimilates also the features of the art styles of Andhra, Tanjabur, or Tanjor, and north India. While for the body colour of most of the figures the artist has used yellow – pale or deep, white, blue or blue-black in pursuance of Orissa tradition, in conceiving the figures of Rama and Bharata in green, and the face of Hanuman in red, he has resorted to Andhrite and Tanjor art traditions. In Tanjor and Andhra art traditions Rama, and correspondingly Bharata, is portrayed in green as his body colour, and Hanuman, with a deep red face. The artist has not used a colour from Orissa palette or the universal blue, which not only most other art traditions but also the canonical literature have prescribed as the colour of Vishnu’s or Rama’s body.
While the facial features of Sita and Bharata, and somewhat of Rama, betray Andhrite influence, the horizontally stretched arched pavilion with a flattish look is a feature of Tanjor temple architecture as it features in most of the Tanjor paintings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The styles of costumes have been immensely diversified betraying various influences. The figure of Vibhishana on the extreme right in white ‘angarakha’ – a long upper wear, is putting on a pajama – sewn garment with independent legs, one of the most popular components of ensemble widely represented in the eighteenth-nineteenth century north Indian medieval paintings from Rajasthan, Oudh, or even hill states. Even the theme of Rama’s coronation has been painted as it has been painted in Tanjor paintings. In miniatures from Rajasthan it has been portrayed with greater details and has narrative thrust.
Rama, with bow and arrow in hands, the attributes with which his identity is decisively established, is seated with Sita, his consort, on an elevated double lotus pedestal consisting of an inverted lotus as its lower half, and an upwards rising, its upper. Rama, seated in ‘lalitasana’ with his right leg suspending below where Hanuman holds it on his lap and massages it, is occupying major part of the pedestal, while the figure of bashful Sita is almost squeezed on the rest of it. On Sita’s left, close to the pedestal, stand Rama’s three brothers, Lakshmana, holding the royal umbrella over the figures of Rama and Sita, and Bharata and Shatrughna with folded hands. With matted hair and clad in a mere antariya, Bharata has been represented as an ascetic, a form in which he had ruled Ayodhya in Rama’s absence for fourteen years considering himself as Ayodhya’s mere care-taker and living a life as lived his brothers Rama and Lakshmana in exile.
Besides Hanuman seated on floor close to the pedestal, there stand on Rama’s left sage Vashishtha, extending over Rama’s head the sacred conch held in his hands, and Jamvan, Sugriva and Vibhishana who accompanied Rama to Ayodhya after he had won his war with Ravana and had rescued Sita. Jamvan, the enlightened minister of Sugriva, is holding in his left hand a text and is elaborating with the other some point under consideration. Though Vibhishana was now Lanka’s king, he revered Rama as his supreme master and it is this humility of him that defines his appearance. Sage Vashishtha, Ayodhya’s state priest, is performing coronation-rite symbolically by extending sacred conch over Rama’s head. In the classical tradition portrayal of coronation is usually more elaborate, often portrayed step-wise and finally by putting on the head a ‘tilaka’ – the auspicious mark denotative of victory. It is only in folk traditions that any one of the steps symbolises the whole act of coronation, or any, as in this painting. Thus, the painting is basically a folk version of the theme.
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.