Rama, Sita and Lakshmana Return to Ayodhya

Return to Ayodhya, from the Ramayana

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana Return to Ayodhya, ca. 1850–1900. Rajasthan, India; Rajput School. Opaque watercolor, ink, silver and gold paint on paper [1983.55]

READING THE ART

Zoom in on the artwork image above and listen to a detailed description here.

This painting shows a scene from the Indian epic poem, the Ramayana, the story of the adventures of Rama, the eldest son of the king of the ancient city Ayodhya. In Hindu art, Rama is often shown with blue skin to refer to his identity as an incarnation, or rebirth, of the god Vishnu in earthly form.

In this scene towards the end of the story, Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakshmana make their way home in triumph after 14 years of exile. Their adventures had taken them across the sea to the island kingdom of Lanka where Sita had been held prisoner by the evil demon-king Ravana. They fly in the magical car Pushpaka over the green land and through the swirling clouds in the sky, lifted by white swans.  All around Rama sit members of the monkey and bear armies that helped to defeat Ravana and his demons, with the Monkey King Sugriva, his nephew Hanuman, and Vibhishan, the newly crowned king of Lanka in places of honor.

Not sure how to pronounce some of the names in this story? Here is a guide:

Rama  (RAH-mah)

Ayodhya  (eye-YOH-dah)

Sita  (SEE-tah)

Lakshmana  (lock-SHMAH-nah)

Lanka  (LAHN-kah)

Ravana  (RAH-vah-nah)

Pushpaka  (poosh-PAH-kah)

Sugriva (soo-GREE-vah)

Hanuman (HAH-noo-mahn)

Vibhishan  (VEE-bee-shahn)

  • "...I seek again my native land:" When Rama, prince of Ayodhya (blue-skinned, at center) was exiled from the kingdom, his wife Sita (at bottom) and his younger brother Lakshmana (at top) went with him. They lived happily together in a forest hut until Sita was kidnapped by the evil Ravana.
  • "...its freight of kings:" Rama's allies shared in his triumphant return. Vibhishan (top row, far right) became the new king of Lanka after Ravana's defeat. Next to him sits the Monkey King Sugriva. Sugriva's nephew Hanuman (bottom row, far right), "son of the wind," became one of Rama's most devoted followers.
  • "...decked with swans and silver wings..." The magical car Pushpaka, also stolen by Ravana, is described in ancient Hindu texts as one of several self-moving flying vehicles created by the gods. The new king of Lanka, Vibishan, loans it to Rama for his trip back home. Rama later returns Pushpaka to its rightful owner.
  • The inscriptions in the borders are written in Sanskrit, a very ancient South Asian language. In this image, "Valmiki Lam 108" refers to Valmiki, the poet credited as being the first to write down the verses of the Ramayana, as early as 500 BCE.
  • And here, "The carrier is leaving Lanka" describes the magical car Pushpaka.

Return to Ayodhya: from the Ramayana

Listen to a recording of the story here:

At the end of the epic Indian poem The Ramayana, the hero-brothers Rama and Lakshmana, along with Rama’s wife Sita, returned home to the city of Ayodhya, accompanied by the armies of monkeys and bears who helped them defeat the demon-king Ravana. Also with the victorious party is Vibhishan, Ravana’s brother who joined Rama’s cause.

Rama, longing to return home after his long adventures, laments,

“Far is Ayodhya: long, alas, the dreary road and hard to pass.”

“One day,” Vibhishan cried, “one day shall bear thee over that length of way.
Is not the wondrous chariot mine named Pushpaka, made by hands divine?
The prize which Ravana seized of old, victorious over the God of Gold?
This chariot, kept with utmost care, will sail you through the fields of air,
and you shall land unwearied down in fair Ayodhya’s royal town.”

Then Rama entered the glorious car that shone like Day’s resplendent star.
There in his lap he held his dame veiling her eyes in modest shame.
Beside him Lakshmana took his stand, whose mighty bow still armed his hand.
“O King Vibhishan,” Rama cried, “O monkey chiefs, so long allied,
my last farewell, O friends, receive, for Lanka’s isle this hour I leave.”
Loud rose their cry in answer: “We, O King Rama, would go with thee.”¬

Their prayer the Lord Rama heard, and spoke, his heart with rapture stirred:
“A joy beyond all joys the best will fill my overflowing breast,
if surrounded by you, O noble band, I seek again my native land.”
Swift through the air, as Rama chose, the wondrous car from earth arose,
and decked with swans and silver wings bore through the clouds its freight of kings.

CONNECTING THE CULTURE

Hinduism is the world’s oldest organized religion, perhaps over 4000 years old, and the third largest with over 1 billion followers, primarily in India and Nepal. There are many different forms and practices of Hinduism, but all recognize a single all-powerful force called Brahman. Hinduism also includes belief in reincarnation, a cycle of earthly death and rebirth influenced by actions and choices taken in life.

One of the two great epic poems from ancient Hindu tradition, the Ramayana, has greatly influenced thousands of years of visual arts– painting, sculpture, theater, and architecture. The Ramayana follows the life of the heroic Rama, honored in Hindu tradition as an incarnation, or earthly form, of Vishnu, the god of protection. Rama demonstrates all of the ideal characteristics of a son, brother, friend, husband, and king. His wife Sita is recognized as a divine incarnation of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife and goddess of wealth and prosperity. Sita is held up as the ideal woman and wife: loyal, brave, and pure of heart.

Many of the locations described in the Ramayana are real, drawing crowds of visitors for their association with Rama’s story. Ayodhya, the legendary city of Rama’s birth, is in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The kingdom of Lanka, where the demon-king Ravana imprisoned Sita, is identified with the modern island nation of Sri Lanka. Millions of Hindus in India believe the remains of a shallow land bridge between the island and the mainland is the one Rama and his armies built to reach Lanka. It is known as Ram Sethu or “Rama’s Bridge.”

Some of the most significant holidays in Hinduism celebrate events of the Ramayana. Dussehra celebrates the victory of good over evil, including the victory of Rama and his allies against Ravana. The five-day festival of Diwali is associated with Rama’s triumphant return and coronation as king of the city of Ayodhya. And for eight days building up to Ramnavami (March/April) honoring Rama’s birthday, as well as the wedding anniversary of Rama and Sita, the faithful read and recite stories from the Ramayana.

  • Followers of Hinduism worship many gods and goddesses who reflect different powers, personalities, and characteristics of Brahman, the ultimate spiritual force. Sometimes these gods take on earthly forms, born as humans or animals to affect events in this world.
  • Depictions of the stories and figures from the Ramayana appear in various art forms across South Asia, including paintings, posters, statuary, dance, and theatrical performances. A 1987 television series based on the Ramayana re-aired in April 2020 in 55 different countries, attracting a record 77 million viewers on a single night.
  • Depictions of the stories and figures from the Ramayana appear in various art forms across South Asia, including paintings, posters, statuary, dance, and theatrical performances. A 1987 television series based on the Ramayana re-aired in April 2020 in 55 different countries, attracting a record 77 million viewers on a single night.
  • Sites associated with the Ramayana are spread across India. The ancient remains of a connection between the Indian mainland (top) and the island of Sri Lanka (bottom) is known as Rama's Bridge, identified as the bridge constructed by Rama's monkey allies.
  • Sites associated with the Ramayana are spread across India. The ancient remains of a connection between the Indian mainland (top) and the island of Sri Lanka (bottom) is known as Rama's Bridge, identified as the bridge constructed by Rama's monkey allies.
  • Dussehra festivities in northern, central and western India include burning large effigies of the defeated Ravana.
  • The light displays of Diwali are in honor of the goddess Lakshmi, as well as Rama's triumphant return to Ayodha.
  • Ramnavami, the celebration of Rama's birthday, features displays of the infant Rama.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

The art of watercolor miniature painting came to India in the mid 1500s. Adapted from Iranian Islamic manuscript painting, these images of elegant court life and scenes from poetry became popular items for wealthy collectors.

The term “miniature” refers not to the size of the paintings themselves, but to their highly intricate details.
The painter applies flat water-based colors in order of shade, lighter colors first, starting with human figures, then animals, and finally the background. Lavish decoration and bright colors bring out tiny details of costume, props, and architecture. Highlights in gold leaf are the last step before the painting is either turned facedown or covered with another thin paper and burnished: rubbed with a polished stone or seashell to harden and smooth the painted surface.

Artists still practice the complex and precise techniques of traditional Indian miniature painting.

Click here to watch a traditional-style miniature painting come to life, step by step.


Credits for the Return to Ayodhya