It is quite fascinating how popular culture, iconography and art shape, influence and reiterate perception, both consciously and unconsciously. Anything that is different from the familiar is either missed or dismissed as a gimmick. In rare cases, it opens up a whole new world and triggers off a new understanding. Something like this happened in February when I visited the Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum at the Jaisalmer Fort, where I was forced to acknowledge that I was not immune to internalising popular perception.
I was at the sculpture gallery at the Museum and idly registering apsaras or dancing girls, a Saraswati, a carved panel, and a bearded figure with a bow. Though the pose of the figure appeared relaxed, it’s expression said otherwise—fierce eyes, and a grim and stern countenance seemed to radiate tension. While, the arrow in the figure’s hands and the bow slung on it’s back suggested a brave warrior, the elaborate crown and extended ear lobes from heavy earrings suggested a that this was, perhaps, the figure of a king.
So who was it, I asked myself. When I saw the information board for this sculpture, I almost dropped my camera !
It was a sculpture of Rama, and a representation like none I had seen before. Popular art always shows Rama as a young man in good health, who is clean-shaven, with a bow on his left shoulder and quiver full of arrows on his right. His right hand is always raised in, what I call, a blessing gesture. Whether as a prince in Ayodhya or facing a life in exile, or as the King of Ayodhya, Rama’s expression is always kind, benevolent and serene; almost beatific. He is Maryada Purushottam Rama. In other words, the popular representation of Rama is always that of a God, and never that of a prince, a husband, a son, a father, a king or a warrior, or even the human being that he was.
The sculptor, who is sadly not mentioned or acknowledged here, has not only presented Rama as a king and a warrior, but has also given him a local flavour with a mustache and beard style favoured by many local Rajput men even today. The stern expression on Rama’s face, so in contrast to his popular image, somehow made him far more real and believable than his portrayal in art and television for me.
This sculpture thrilled, delighted and challenged my own perceptions of Rama and left me wondering as to why had I never envisioned Rama as the Kshatriya prince or as the warrior he was. It also served as a reminder, once again, for me to look and appreciate, but always with an inquiring mind. 🙂
Have you seen representations in art that went against popular perception? I would love to hear about that and request you to share your experiences here.
PS: In my shock and excitement over seeing this, I completely forgot to note down details of the sculpture. You see, I could not go beyond,”Lord Rama”. So if someone has seen this sculpture and has the details, please share them here. Thank you. 🙂
The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.