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Rare Ramayana exhibition begins in UK

world Updated: May 16, 2008 17:11 IST

A first of its kind exhibition of 120 rare, lavishly illustrated Ramayana paintings from the volumes of Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar dated 17 Century AD opened in London on Friday.

The exhibition being put up by the British Library features loans of paintings, textiles and sculptures from other major collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, as well as shadow puppets and dance costumes from the Horniman Museum.

Many of these items have never, or seldom, been publicly displayed. Titled The Ramayana: Love and Valour in India's Great Epic, it will run until September 14 at the library.

The exhibition explores the story of the Ramayana and how it has been represented and retold over the centuries and in different countries and cultures.

The exhibition also includes original British Library Sound Archive recordings of readings and chantings of the Sanskrit and other versions of the Ramayana, the singing of devotional hymns to Rama and dramatic and dance music from India and South-East Asia including Gamelan music associated with shadow puppet plays in Bali and Java.

Library sources said that the Mewar Ramayana manuscripts were produced between 1649 and 1653 for Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar in his court studio at Udaipur.

The Mewar Ramayana manuscripts have been brought to life in the exhibition designed by Tara Arts Theatre Company and is supported by KK Birla, British Library Patrons and the Friends of the British Library.

Illustrated on the grandest scale, with over 400 paintings, the vivid, brightly coloured scenes are packed with narrative detail and dramatic imagery, with no episode of the great epic overlooked.

Two volumes have been identified as being painted by the studio master Sahib Din with other paintings being completed in a related Mewar style.

The volume set in the kingdom of Kishkindha, is in an anonymous style heavily influenced by painting from the Deccan.
The exhibition is accompanied by a full events programme including films, performances, shadow-puppetry and gamelan music, talks and discussions.

A selection of images from the manuscript has been digitised and will be available to view in the Library's award winning Turning the Pages technology in the exhibition and online at http://www.Bl.Uk/ramayana

The Turning the Pages production of the Ramayana is supported by prominent India-origin entrepreneur Gulam Noon and Mohini Noon.

"I am thrilled that we are able to display the magnificent Mewar Ramayana manuscript... One of the finest manuscripts of the Ramayana epic ever produced, it vividly illustrates this great story," Jerry Losty, curator of the Ramayana exhibition and former Head of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the British Library, said.

The cumulative effect of seeing picture after picture packed with detail is truly remarkable and offers visitors a unique experience that has previously only been available to a very few scholars, he said.