For over two millennia, the famed Ramayana has been told and retold in many regional versions. Painted manuscripts of the epic were repeatedly commissioned by Hindu monarchs. This folio depicts the forest exile of Rama, Sita, and Rama's brother Lakshmana, who left the kingdom clad in the stark bark-and-leaf garments of ascetics. Beneath a tree's richly detailed greenery, Rama and Sita exchange a look of ardent affection as Sita proffers a meal in a leaf bowl to Rama. In spite of his repose, Rama keeps his sword on his lap and a bow by his side, while his quiver of arrows hangs from a nearby branch. To the left, Lakshmana attentively skins a black buck in preparation for a meal of roasted venison kebabs. The naturalistic modeling of graceful figures in soft colors, depicted against the undulating hills of the surrounding countryside, situate these mythic events within the region of the Punjab Hills.

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Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the Forest.
Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the Forest.
India, Punjab Hills, Kangra, ca. 1790. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Lent by the San Diego Museum of Art: Edwin Binney 3rd Collection.