Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

(Formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India)

Hanuman in the Service of Rama

Pahari, probably Mandi, circa 1770.
30.5 x 23.5 cm (with border),
23.3 x 16.5 cm (without border).
Formerly in the Sir Dorab Tata Collection, Bombay.
Karl and Meherbai Khandalavala Collection
Object of the month - March 2015

This well-finished miniature with gold shows Rama and Sita back in Ayodhya after their many tribulations described in the Ramayana. The faithful Hanuman is seen washing Rama's feet. The setting is the palace of a Hill raja in the architectural fashion of the second half of the 18th century.

Sita and her maidens are all Pahari ladies and Rama is a Pahari chief, save that he wears a crown instead of a turban. Rama's face is painted blue because he, like Krishna, is an incarnation of the God Vishnu, whose colour is always blue. The long forest exile is over and Sita has been rescued from Ravana.

To those familiar with the epic, the feeling of joyous reunion, subtly suggested in the faces of Rama and his consort, will be apparent. The artist's interpretation of the undisturbed happiness which Rama and Sita were not to enjoy for long, is undeniably sensitive. There is a sense of isolation which is suggested by the battlemented walls that shut out the palace from the outer world. The royal couple seem so far away from the whispered rumours of evil tongues, which are to end their newfound bliss. Here in the company of a few adoring handmaidens and the ever faithful Hanuman, there is peace and rest and soft music after the long travail. The maiden in the middle of the group to the right holds Rama's bow and quiver of arrows. They are a reminder of the days in the forest and the struggle against Ravana. Rama also wears a flower garland. Comic relief is afforded by Hanuman who glances up at the girl playing the drum as if he does not approve of her performance. The Indian artist was always most successful in humanizing Hanuman's monkey form.

The curtain, partly rolled up, at the top of the picture, is a common device borrowed from Mughal painting, while the doorkeeper standing in the distant entrance-arch, is another favourite Mughal cliché derived from Persian miniatures. The workmanship of this painting is of high excellence, particularly the faces of Rama and Sita, which are in Kangra kalam and have a delicate porcelain-like finish, which the colour reproduction fails to convey. Airy pavilions of white or pink stone and semicircular arches supported by elegant pillars were greatly in fashion. Silver was used for woven and painted textiles, huqqas, and other objects. It was also used to depict water and lotuses. Silver tarnishes after a time and in consequence, it is always seen as a metallic grey-black wherever it appears in Pahari paintings. The cushions in the painting are an instance in point. The mount surrounding the miniature is pink with close hatching of short strokes in a darker pink.

Though ascribed to Mandi, women with similar features are also found in paintings from Guler and Chamba, and this painting could equally well be assigned to Guler. Roerich acquired a similar painting stated to be the work of a Mandi artist; hence, the Mandi attribution. But in this connection the migration of artists from one state to another must always be borne in mind.