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A look at the few exhibits at ‘Leela’ that explores the Ramayana tradition

There is a dhokra statue of Ram, Sita and Lakshman on an elephant with a monkey consort. Interestingly, it is one of the few representations of Rama and Lakshman sitting behind Sita. The exhibition is on display at the Twin Art Gallery, IGNCA, Janpath, till December 25. Time: 11 am-7 pm

An image of a group of people wearing headgear of peacock feathers has another unusual feature — their faces are tattooed with lines of the word “Ram” in Devnagri script. They are the Ramnamis of Chhattisgarh, every inch of whose bodies bear the name of their god. There was a time when the community didn’t wear a shred of cloth on their bodies, since “Ram” was all they wanted to be covered in. A century ago, the tattooed bodies were an act of defiance and devotion after the community was denied entry into temples in Chhattisgarh. Over a period of time, they have begun to wear a white cloth with “Ram” blockprinted on it.

The photograph is one of the exhibits that traces the sociocultural impact of faith in the exhibition “Leela”, which explores the Ramayana tradition in India and foreign countries such as Nepal. “The exhibition is built around the philosophical, narrative, visual, pictorial and performing aspects of the Ramayana in classical, folk and contemporary contexts,” says Molly Kaushal, Professor and Head of Department, Janapada Sampada Division, Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), who has curated the exhibition. Among other prominent displays comprising 100 artefacts is a 10th century image of Lord Ram looming over his mother, Kaushalya, as he reveals his mystic form or vishwarupa. This is interesting because lore and legend celebrates Krishna revealing his cosmic appearance to his frightened mother but “Leela” shows that a similar event also exists in the story of Ram.

A video of the Nati Imli Ramleela in Varanasi, said to be the oldest, captures the meeting of the brothers at the end of the 14 years of vanvaas during Bharat Milap. The swelling and surging crowds are testimony to the Ramleela being a living tradition, with believers dressed up to watch the enactment of the epic scene.

The spread of the Ramayana stories is showcased through a selection of masks, phad and musical instruments. These are intricately designed and handled with ritual reverence.

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A replica of coins issued by Akbar that bear inscriptions of ‘Siya Ram’ on one side and ‘Allah’ on the other are also on display. As the political climate in the country becomes increasingly divisive, this exhibit testifies to Akbar’s attempt to sustain religious harmony in his empire.

There is a dhokra statue of Ram, Sita and Lakshman on an elephant with a monkey consort. Interestingly, it is one of the few representations of Rama and Lakshman sitting behind Sita.

The exhibition is on display at the Twin Art Gallery, IGNCA, Janpath, till December 25. Time: 11 am-7 pm

First published on: 14-12-2017 at 00:00 IST
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