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British library to re-live Ramayana

The British Library will hold a major exhibition of 120 rare Ramayana paintings from the volumes of Mewar Ramayana.
PTI | By HT Correspondent, London
UPDATED ON APR 08, 2008 02:15 PM IST

The British Library here will for the first time hold a major exhibition of 120 rare Ramayana paintings, from the volumes of Mewar Ramayana manuscripts, exploring the epic being retold and represented over the centuries in different countries.

The free-entry exhibition, which will open from May 16 continue till September 14 at the library, is titled 'The Ramayana: Love and Valour in India's Great Epic'.

The Mewar Ramayana manuscripts will be brought to life in the exhibition designed by Tara Arts Theatre Company and supported by K K Birla, British Library Patrons and the Friends of the British Library.

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

It will also feature paintings, textiles and sculptures from other major collections including the Victoria and 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, sources said.

The exhibition will also include 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.

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 monkey kingdom of Kishkindha, is in an anonymous style heavily influenced by painting from the Deccan, parts of which had long been identified with the monkey kingdom of Kishkindha itself.

The exhibition will be accompanied by 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.

Jerry Losty, curator of the Ramayana exhibition and former Head of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the British Library, said: "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."

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