Museum Treasure: Rama’s coronation

In India, popular perception in religious art largely spread through calendars, posters and periodicals. These colourful works of art were important in reinforcing images that we instantly recognise today. For instance, if we were to try to imagine Rama’s coronation in Ayodhya, it would be something like this — Rama and Sita seated on the royal throne with Hanuman bowing at their feet. Rama’s brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna are in attendance, as is the Vanar king Sugreeva. The royal priest, Vashishta, is busy conducting the ceremony.

It is a gloriously celebratory image, but uni dimensional, and oh-so-safe-and-recognisable, if you know what I mean. And frankly, quite boring as the expressions on all the faces are fixed and beatific.

But then, sometimes, one comes across depictions that shakes you out of the boredom and makes you look at the same thing all over again, but with delight this time.

I came across two artifacts/tableaus on Rama’s coronation at at Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum. Though both were instantly recognisable for what they depicted, they had more than an element of surprise on offer. Here is the first one:

Rama's coronation. Ivory, Mid-18th Century
Rama’s coronation. Ivory, Mid-18th Century

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I, Rama or Ayyo, Rama !

I, Rama: Age of Seers by Ravi Venu (Cratus Media, pp. 264, Rs.225) is the first book in the “I, Rama Series”. The series is a retelling of the Ramayana from Rama’s point of view.

This is His tale… let Him share His story with you…His account of the Legend. This is the story of that mighty king through His eyes, but my hand. (p.17)

I, Rama is narrated as a flashback to Rama’s twin sons Lava and Kusa, his brothers Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan, and his foremost devotee, Hanuman. It is not a simple straightforward flashback as there are tales within tales and flashbacks within flashbacks. So, even if it is Rama, who is narrating the tale, he narrates it through another’s voice. This volume takes the readers through the origins of the Ishvaku clan, the reign of Dashrath, the birth of Rama and his brothers, Rama and Lakshman’s sojourn to the Dandaka forest with Vishwamitra, Sita’s swayamvar and her ensuing marriage with Rama, and his encounter with Parasurama. The book ends with Rama, Sita and Lakshman being exiled from Ayodhya.

This is what I, Rama narrates, a story that anyone who has read the Ramayana will be familiar with, including me.

Now, how do I write a review of a book that is yet another retelling of the beloved Hindu legend, the Ramayana?

How do I write a review of a book that is part science fiction, part fantasy, part mythology and ends up being an uncooked khichdi of genres?

How do I write a review of a book with that is woven around a unique premise, but is written very badly?

How do I write a review of a book that was much-anticipated, but which failed to deliver?

How do I write a review of a book whose language is so archaic that it made me cringe?

How do I write a review of a book called I, Rama, but one that made me go “Ayyo, Rama”?

How do I write a review of a book that I struggled to complete and then did not want to review it?

I, therefore, decided not to write a usual review. What I have written is this…

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