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The painting, rendered using the seventeenth century Mewar idiom of Rajasthani art style known for its great narrative series illustrating the Ramayana, Gita-Govinda and other myths and for conceiving its figures with unique vigour and folk-art’s naïve simplicity and directness, reveals a strange humanistic approach in portraying its theme. Despite of an awkwardly conceived bizarre form with so many heads and arms planted on a single torso the Ravana’s figure has a strange human touch in its iconographic perception. For drawing Ravana’s figure the artist has moved his brush as affectionately and carefully as when he drew the figures of Rama or Lakshmana.
Ravana’s figure reveals the same quality of modeling and plasticity as reveals in a marble statue. The eye, accustomed to see Ravana’s army as a host of animal headed demons in irregular attire and repulsive appearances – the picture that invariably emerges in the entire tradition of Indian art, finds here in this painting a completely different version of Ravana and his army, and it is amazingly delightful. His elephants, horses and chariots-riding demons, those with ranks in Mughalia turbans, and others, in helmets, and all in respectable costumes, are not different from the warriors battling for any of the Rajput princes. In contrast to Rama’s army of monkeys and bears, or even otherwise, the Ravana’s army reveals great splendour befitting Ravana’s land famed as ‘made of gold’.
As the Ravana’s army, represented with grandeur befitting a state like Ravana’s, without being prejudiced by the tradition seeking to transform it into a host of animal-headed beasts, the artist has perceived Rama’s army of monkeys and bears as nature made them, not as the tradition glamorized them – having human anatomy, and costumed, crowned and bejewelled like human beings. However, in absolute respect to India’s spiritual tradition, which did not confine a good or bad role to particular specie – man or animal, or gender, he did not meddle with the monkeys’, or bears’, divine role of aiding in evil’s eradication. With their bodies uncovered and gender organs displayed they are engaged in fighting out evil with the same zeal as Rama, their master, performing the same divine role as the master. He did not glamorize even the figure of Rama, or Lakshmana. He has perceived Rama and correspondingly Lakshmana as the timeless poet Tulsidasa has perceived him in his Ramacharita Manasa : ‘Syam gata sira jata banayen’, that is, one with blue body and matted hair twisted into a knot. The only person clad in courtly attire on his side is Vibhishana, Ravana’s brother, a prince in exile and the Lanka’s would-be king.
The painting’s theme is well illustrated. It reveals the final phase of the Rama’s battle against Ravana. After all of his hundred sons, kin, friends and others had been killed Ravana himself led his army in battle. He often expanded his form and lifted his chariot along him in the air. Rama shot at him his mightiest arrows but without effect. It was due to his weak strategic position. He was shooting his arrows from the ground level while Ravana drove in his chariot which sometimes soared above the ground. Thus, his arrows did not hit him straight and hence did not do him any harm. Realising his master's dilemma Vibhishana came to him and disclosed that Ravana contained nectar in his navel and unless his arrows hit him straight in the navel and dried off the nectar, Ravana would not be killed. He could not hit his navel unless he rose to the same height as Ravana. Rama under the pledge not to use a vehicle during the period of his exile was against riding a chariot. But as always, Hanuman came to his rescue. With Angad's help he raised Rama to the same level as Ravana's chariot and enabled him to hit Ravana straight into his navel. The painting portrays Ravana twice, first as one rising above the normal level, and second, as fallen on the ground, the two stages of the action.
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.