The Ramayana is one of the ancient epics of India, telling the stirring tale of Prince Ramas quest to rescue his wife, Sita, following her abduction by the ten-headed demon king Ravana.
A major partnership between the British Library
and CSMVS Museum in Mumbai has brought together a vividly illustrated 17th century manuscript of the story online, digitally reuniting over 600 folios which have been split between organisations in the UK and India for the last 150 years. For the first time, people around the world will be able to digitally explore the pages of the Mewar Ramayana manuscript, which was commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar in 1649 and produced in his court studio at Udaipur. The project, which has been three years in the making, is sponsored by the Jamsetji Tata Trust, the World Collections Programme, and the Friends of the British Library.
The Ramayana Ramas journey is one of Indias oldest and most enduring stories. It was first told in the Sanskrit epic poem of Valmiki some two and a half thousand years ago. Since then it has been retold over and over in different forms in many languages of India and beyond. The story embodies the Hindu idea of dharma duty, behaving correctly according to ones position and role in society.
The Mewar Ramayana manuscript was created by several artists, whose exquisite and intricate paintings of gods, battles, landscapes and animals are among the finest examples of Indian art. Alongside the illustrations are over 800 pages of text in Sanskrit, which were copied by a single scribe while staying at different locations in Udaipur. The Mewar Ramayana is considered to be one of the most lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the epic. 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 by Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar in the early 19th century. He in turn donated them to the Duke of Sussex following his return to Britain in 1823, and the remaining books became dispersed over time.
The digital Mewar Ramayana will enable users to turn the pages online in the unbound style reflecting the traditional Indian loose-leaf format, and interpretive text and audio will allow the broadest possible audience to study and enjoy this text in a whole new way. It will also transform access to the manuscript for researchers, who will have the text and paintings side by side in one place for the first time.
Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said The Mewar Ramayana is one of the worlds most lavish and beautiful manuscripts, and now thanks to the digital version, its pages can be studied and enjoyed by people anywhere online.
This partnership with CSMVS Museum is an innovative example of what can happen when organisations work together with a common aim to widen access to their collections. I am delighted to be in Mumbai with the Chairman of the British Library, Baroness Blackstone, to launch this superb new resource, and to celebrate the continued strong cultural links between Britain and India.
Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General of CMSVS Museum said: This is a unique collaborative project which accomplished all its objectives. Believing in the principle of universalism, we at the CSMVS, acknowledge the need to disseminate knowledge, expertise and resources through professional and virtual networks in addition to the circulation of material objects. This is our first collaborative project with the British Library and we wish to do similar kind of projects in the future. We thank Jamsetji Tata Trust for the support.
The Jamsetji Tata Trust said The Mewar Ramayana manuscript project, supported by the Jamsetji Tata Trust, is a joint collaboration between CSMVS Museum and British Library. The project is unique as it is not just across India and UK but re-unites the beautiful 17th century manuscript using digitisation and technology to enable wider access to a global audience.