Epic Mewar Ramayana's digital version is now available online

Saturday, 22 March 2014 - 5:00pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk

  • A screengrab of the e-version of the reunified Mewar Ramayana courtesy the British Library website British Library

The Mewar Ramayana, considered to be one of the most beautiful illustrated manuscripts in the world is now available online thanks to a partnership between the British Library and CSMVS Museum of Mumbai. The lavish manuscript which was created by several artists was commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh I of Mewar in 1649 and produced in his court studio at Udaipur. The online version has made available hundreds of folios from it, including 377 vividly illustrated paintings. The project, which took three years to put together, is sponsored by the Jamsetji Tata Trust, the World Collections Programme, and the Friends of the British Library.

The digital Mewar Ramayana allows users to ‘turn the pages' in the unbound style reflecting the traditional Indian loose-leaf format. It has interpretive text and audio. Users can use tools to zoom into the miniatures to view their detailing. 

What is the Mewar Ramayana?
Divided into seven books, the manuscript's text was written by Jain scribe Mahatma Hirananda and its miniature paintings created by various artists including studio master Sahib Din. Production of the manuscript started in 1649 and was completed in 1653 in the first year of the reign of his Rāṇā Rāj Siṅgh (r. 1652–80). The manuscript features intricate and miniature paintings of Hindu gods, battles, landscapes and animals alongside which are 800 pages of text in Sanskrit. Three different studio masters including Sahib Din organised the illustrations of the various volumes over a period of several years. 

Why was the Mewar Ramayana split between the UK and India?
After being split between the UK and India for over 150 years, the online version will reunite the epic for the first time.

Originally in seven volumes corresponding to the seven books of the epic, four of them (Books 2, 4, 6 and 7) were given by Mahārāṇā Bhīm Siṅgh of Mewar (1778–1828) to Colonel James Tod (1782–1835) who in 1818 became the first British political agent in Rajasthan. On his departure from India he brought them to England and they are now in the British Library.

Book 1 remains in India, mostly in Mumbai, at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya and in a private collection, with two folios in the Baroda Museum, while Book 3 remained in the palace library in Udaipur before passing to the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute and is now in Jodhpur. The dismembered fifth book is represented now only by an album of eighteen paintings, also in the British Library.

On his return to England in 1823, Tod presented his four Rāmāyaṇavolumes to the royal bibliophile, the Duke of Sussex (1773–1843), along with a later manuscript of the first book done in Udaipur in 1712. They were acquired by the British Museum library at the sale of the Sussex collection in 1844 and became known as the ‘SussexRāmāyaṇa’. All the originally loose leaves of these Indian manuscripts were inlaid into heavy, sized paper and bound up in three extremely handsome European goatskin covers, tooled and gilded.

How to view the Mewar Ramayana online?
Visit www.bl.uk/ramayana or www.csmvs.in/the-mewar-ramayana
The book is available online via a software called Turning the Pages that allows libraries, museums and galleries around the world provide access to their collections. The new version of 'Turning the Pages' is built in HTML5. It is not reliant on 'plugins' you need to install first, as with previous versions. It will work with the following browsers:
Internet Explorer 9 +
Google Chrome 14+
Firefox 11+
Note: The virtual book, is a very large file and may take several minutes to download on slower internet connections.

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