Mughal miniatures of the Ramayana commissioned by Emperor Akbar

Emperor Akbar spent a fortune in the 16th century translating Sanskrit texts into Persian. The Ramayana is one of them.

Vishwamitra brings Rama and Lakshmana to his hermitage.

Vishwamitra brings Rama and Lakshmana to his hermitage.

Sita shies away from Hanuman, believing he is Ravana in disguise.

Sita shies away from Hanuman, believing he is Ravana in disguise.

Rama slays the demon Trishiras.

Rama slays the demon Trishiras.

Mandodari approaches her husband, Ravana.

Mandodari approaches her husband, Ravana.

The death of King Dasharatha, the father of Rama.

The death of King Dasharatha, the father of Rama.

Rama receives Sugriva and Jambavat, the Vanara kings.

Rama receives Sugriva and Jambavat, the Vanara kings.

Atikaya, a son of Ravana.

Atikaya, a son of Ravana.

Vanaras help Rama build a bridge.

Vanaras help Rama build a bridge.

In the late 16th century, Tulsidas began to compose the Ramcharitmanas in Awadhi, one of the earliest vernacular versions of the Ramayana. At around the same time, Mughal emperor Akbar embarked on a similar project – on a rather more royal scale.

There are hundreds of written and oral versions of the Ramayana, all of which differ widely depending on who narrates the epic and which country you are in. But for centuries, the definitive Brahminical version of the epic was held to be the Valmiki Ramayana, with seven books and 24,000 verses in Sanskrit. It was composed approximately in the fifth or fourth century BCE. Over the years, only a few additions were made by enterprising authors.

However, Akbar decided to change this. In 1574, in an effort to standardise communication in a court that spoke multiple languages, the emperor started a translation office to render Sanskrit, Arabic and even Turkish texts into Persian.

Akbar’s Ramayana, completed in 1584, is a product of several layers of translation. Brahmins at the court first translated the verses from Sanskrit into Awadhi. Court translators then rendered their transliteration into Persian verse, and court painters added their interpretations of the various scenes.

The original translation of Akbar’s Ramayana is lost, but pages from subsequent editions are available in private collections. Here are eight images from the book courtesy Scroll.In

3 comments for “Mughal miniatures of the Ramayana commissioned by Emperor Akbar

  1. Akanksha
    November 9, 2014 at 5:49 AM

    Why Akabar did not embark on the project of brutal invasion of rapists and mass-murderer barbaric Arabians, Persians in 8 th to 12 th century ?

    Vanaras were not rapists and mass-murderers like Muslims.

  2. Indian
    November 9, 2014 at 6:04 AM

    Vincent Smith starts his book with “Akbar was a foreigner in India. He had not a drop of Indian blood in his veins…Akbar was more of a Turk than Mogul.” And we proclaim him as an out-and-out Indian. His father, grandfather and in fact entire lineage represented the topmost terrorists of their eras (7th generation of Timur from father and Genghis Khan from mother) whose sole goal was to loot and plunder. And we claim him to be pride of India!

    Abul Fazl describes Harem of Akbar: “It had 5000 women and each woman had a separate home.” This is apart from more than 36 wives that he had.
    The first condition in treaty of Ranathambhor was that Rajputs should dispatch Dolis of women to Royal Harem in return of freeing of soldiers. No wonder, why Jauhar and death were so preferred by those upholding virtues of self-dignity. Akbar used to distribute his sex-slaves among his courtiers as per Griman. Thus women were nothing but inert objects of pleasure in gang of Akbar and his notorious courtiers.After capturing Chittod, Akbar ordered a massacre in which 30,000 people were killed.

  3. Dilip Kulkarni
    December 18, 2015 at 11:30 PM

    Thank you for posting these paintings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*