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THE BENDING OF THE BOW. Illustration to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Unfinished Kangra, c. 1780-85. British Museum
THE BENDING OF THE BOW


Since its translation into Hindi by the poet Tulsi Das in 1574, the Ramajana or Annals of Rama has never ceased to inspire Hindu India with its record of martial valour, its call to right conduct and its portrayals of wifely devotion. The present picture illustrates the dramatic event which resulted in Rama's marriage. Raja Janak, the King of Mithila in modern Bihar, had announced that whoever could bend 'the bow of Siva' would gain his daughter's hand. Various princes essayed the trial, only to meet with quick discomfiture. A little later, Rama was wandering in the forests with his brother, Lakshman and the sage Vishvamitra and chancing to pass the court, decided to test his fate. Seizing the bow, he not only bent but broke it. In the picture, Janak's daughter, Sita, is placing the emblem of victory, a long garland of flowers, on Rama's shoulders while Lakshman attended by Vishvamitra stands applauding at his side. To the right, Raja Janak, a bearded figure in a white turban, gazes at the feat while his courtiers await the outcome with rapt attention.
In style the picture discloses Mughal mannerisms in its detailed studies of character and its fluent naturalism. It is none the less entirely Kangra in conception, particularly in its blending of simple domesticities with aristocratic elegance, the supple grace of its feminine forms and its all-pervasive air of passionless composure. The picture is almost certainly by the same master-artist who illustrated the Bhagavata Purana, but is probably five to ten years earlier in execution.