One of the most beautiful manuscripts in the world, the Mewar Ramayana, is being published for the first time in one volume after being split between the UK and India for more than 150 years.
The Ramayana is one of the ancient stories of India, telling the epic tale of Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his wife, Sita, following her abduction by the ten-headed demon king Ravana. The Ramayana – “Rama’s journey” –was first told in the Sanskrit epic poem of Valmiki around 2500 years ago. Since then it has been retold in different forms in India’s many languages and beyond. The story embodies the Hindu idea of dharma – duty, behaving correctly according to one’s position and role in society. The Mewar Ramayana is considered to be one of the finest illustrated manuscripts of the famous story ever produced.
The Mewar Ramayana is being published by Delhi based Roli Books with an introduction by respected British scholar JP Losty while ancient India specialist Sumenha V Ojha contributes an essay on the Story of the Ramayana and how it has inspired 2500 years of cultural output.
The book’s publication follows a major partnership between the British Library and CSMVS Museum in Mumbai. The museums brought together 600 folios of the Mewar Ramayana which had been split between organisations in the UK and India for the last 150 years and published it online for the first time.
The Mewar Ramayana manuscript, was commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh (reign 1628-52) of Mewar in 1649 and produced in his court studio at Udaipur. It was created by several artists, whose exquisite and intricate paintings of gods, battles, landscapes and animals are among the finest examples of Indian art. It came to be divided between collections held in the UK and India; four of the Ramayana books were presented to Lt. Col. James Tod, who in 1818 became the first British political agent in Rajasthan by Maharana Bhim Singh (reign 1778-1828) of Mewar in the early 19th century. Colonel Tod in turn donated them to the Duke of Sussex following his return to Britain in 1823, and the remaining books became dispersed over time.
Now Roli has brought 370 paintings of the Mewar Ramayana together in print for the first time in a new beautifully presented 328 page hard backed book with embossed jacket.
The book’s launch in Delhi was attended by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar the 76th custodian of the House of Mewar and descendent of Rana Jagat Singh and Maharana Bhim Singh. Shriji has painstakingly restored and curated the 450-year-old City Palace in Udaipur creating one of the finest museums in India. The museum galleries include a large and priceless collection of Mewar Court art, in its Bhagwat Prakash Gallery.
Shriji welcomed the publication saying the collection has long deserved being published in one volume for future generations to appreciate.
“We are delighted to see the digital version of the Mewar Ramayana brought together by the British Library and CSMVS Museum, which was an ambitious and complex task,” he said. “To now see the collection in book form for the first time is wonderful. It is an invaluable resource for scholars and artists to complement the digital version.
“The Mewar Ramayana is an immense work in its size and scale and took a team of artists virtually all of the 1640s to complete, according to research undertaken JP Losty, who has written a thoughtful introduction to the book. But to see this work acknowledged today in both the digital and book form reflects the enduring importance of the Mewar Ramayana as one of the finest artistic works produced in India.
“It is certainly one of the most beautiful examples of Rajput art of the 17th century, reflecting Mewar’s position as one of the leading centres of art and culture from the 15th through to the 18th centuries.
“Rana Jagat Singh was an artistic visionary. He saw, after the destruction of Mewar’s former capital-city of Chittor by the then Mughal Emperor Akbar, that art and culture had to be maintained. He began restocking of the royal library lost at Chittor. Jagat Singh’s major artist was Sahib Din, a Muslim whose innovative style can be seen across this collection. The Mewar Ramayana has resonance today for the people of Rajasthan as it is a story about Dharma and duty. The illustrations here show how this concept appealed to Rajputs and their own ideals of personal honour and heroic chivalry. There is much to savour in this very well presented book and I congratulate the authors and Roli for having the drive to bring it together.”
The book is available to buy from amazon for around £44
To access the digital version of the manuscript: Mewar Ramayana manuscript,
About the Authors
J.P. Losty was formerly curator of the extensive Indian visual collections in the British Library in London and is one of the world’s leading authorities on the paintings of colonial India. He has published many books and papers on various aspects of Indian painting from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries. His major books include The Art of the Book in India (1982), Calcutta: City of Palaces (1990), The Ramayana (2008), Delhi: From Red Fort to Raisina (2011) and Sita Ram’s Painted Views of India: Lord Hastings’s Journey from Calcutta to the Punjab, 1814–1815 (2015).
Sumedha Verma Ojha, author, speaker and columnist on ancient India and the epics, was born in Patna. She joined the Indian Revenue Service after graduating from Lady Sri Ram College and completing her post graduation from the Delhi School of Economics. After almost two decades in the civil services she resigned to follow her passion – ancient India. She lives in Switzerland and writes and speaks across the world on ancient Indian history, society, culture, religion and the epics with special focus on a gendered analysis of ancient India. Her series, Urnabhih, is historical fiction, the books set in Mauryan India; the second book is to be published soon. A book on the modern women of ancient India will also be out in 2017.