This group of four marble statues, each unparalleled in beauty, most aesthetically sculpted and delightfully painted, manifesting the ‘swarupa’ of the deity forms as the ‘Chitra-sutra’ in the Vishnudharmottara Purana prescribes, represent Rama, Vishnu’s seventh incarnation, the hero of the Great epic the Ramayana and the son of Dasharatha, Ayodhya’s king, his consort Sita, younger brother Lakshmana and his most devoted aide the monkey-god Hanuman. Revealing an aura of transcendence each image is unique in its adherence to classical norms as prescribed in treatises like the ‘Chitra-sutra’. As laid down in the ‘Chitra-sutra’, the divinity of these stone pieces is such that they enter the mind that meditates on them and transform into spiritual images and the ties with the ‘material’ are severed. In classical terminology all four images are ‘swarupa’ : absolute in aesthetic beauty, that the ‘Chitra-sutra’ lays as the foremost condition of a fully evolved image. As should a ‘swarupa’ image, all four images are only the beauty, auspiciousness and good and are able to sublimate the mind and transcend it to spiritual heights. They radiate their ambience within and without : the mind and body and all things, with the same 'bhava', emotional bearing, with which they have been themselves conceived.
A figure from history or mythology, an incarnation to have occurred for eliminating Ravana, the Lanka’s demon king, or the creation of a poet’s imagination, a myth or a reality, Rama is now for ages the core of faith for millions of Indians who find in him the prime source of their spiritual energy and material well-being, a ladder to salvation, as also to mundane heights, a model of perfect living as also to run a society and a stay for tagging their woes and miseries, achievements and failures, prospects, disappointments, strength, weakness, auspices, reasons to rejoice and festivities. Born to Kausalya, his principal queen, Rama was king Dasharatha’s eldest son; however, just on the eve of his coronation Kekeyi, one of his step-mothers, turned the destiny’s wheel to the contrary by laying her son Bharat’s claim to the Ayodhya’s throne and Rama’s exile to forest for fourteen years. An obedient son, Rama accepted his father’s wish even before it was expressed. Despite all efforts to stop them his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana also accompanied him to forest. In the order of birth Lakshmana was third to Rama but has in the ‘Rama-katha’ a place of great distinction.
When at Panchavati Ravana abducted Sita. Wandering around Kishkindha in search of Sita, Rama encountered Hanuman, one of the ministers of Sugriva, the monkey king of Kishkindha. He soon won Rama’s confidence and led him to Kishkindha Mountain where Sugriva, overthrown by his brother Bali, was hiding. Rama consoled the exiled monkey king and assured to restore to him his lost kingdom. Sugriva too promised to put all his monkeys into Sita’s search and to render every service. After it was known that Sita, abducted by Ravana, was in his custody at Lanka Hanuman jumped across the wide sea to Lanka and discovered her there in the heavily guarded Ashoka-vatika. Finally, there ensued a war between Rama and Ravana which ended with Ravana’s defeat and death. The period of exile had come to close and hence along with Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman and others Rama returned to Ayodhya where he was duly enthroned. During coronation ceremony and ever after, in his court Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman had special significance with the result that in visual traditions this group of four is identified as ‘Rama-durbar’ – the court of Rama. In Vaishnava tradition Rama is worshipped as ‘Raja Rama’, and his image enshrining the sanctum is said to be in his ‘Durbar’ of which Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman are essential components.
Statues present a wondrous blend of the arts of sculpture and painting which makes the images fully accomplished. Not only improper, unclad images are considered impious and unless properly clad, their installation is forbidden. Costuming deity sculptures using appropriate textiles is an independent and a bit difficult art, more so in countries other than India. The painting part has resolved this situation. In these statues the colours, pink for Sita’s sari, yellow for ‘antariyas’ of Rama and Lakshmana, and for Hanuman’s loincloth, green for Sita’s waistband, pink for Lakshmana’s, and saffron for Rama’s, and for Sita’s blouse, and gold for borders and butis around the fields, have as elegantly and richly clothed the images as would have hardly done even silks or any fine fabrics. These colours glow as brilliantly as gems and stones and substitute also the figures’ ornaments, crowns and their attributes : bows, arrows and lotus in Sita’s hand. All figures have relative heights, Rama being the tallest. Rama and Lakshmana carry bows in their left hands, Rama and Sita are holding their right hands in ‘abhaya’, while Lakshmana, an arrow. Sita, the primordial energy incarnate, is holding in her left hand a lotus, symbolising cosmos. Sita is clad in sari and blouse, Rama and Lakshmana, in ‘antariyas’ – lower wears, and Hanuman, in loincloth. All figures are elegantly bejeweled.
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.