Hanuman leads Rama and Lakshmana to Surgriva, Bahu or Jammu

Opaque pigment on paper heightened with gold

Image 19 x 32 cm. ; folio 22.5 x 35 cm. Circa 1700 - 1710

The scene illustrates Hanuman leading the heroic brothers Rama and Lakshmana to meet the monkey king Surgriva. When the brothers are seen approaching from a distance, Surgriva not knowing the reason for their arrival sends his close friend Hanuman to intercept them. In order to approach the brothers safely Hanuman disguises himself as an ascetic, so in accordance with the text the artist depicts Hanuman in human form. Hanuman’s normal identity as a monkey is merely hinted at by the shorts and long scarf that he wears, that are the same style as those worn by Surgriva. Hanuman is shown striding, if not flying, between Mt. Rishyamuka and Mt. Malaya in his quest to unite the two parties. Lakshmana’s general suspicion of all newcomers, since being banished to the forest, is shown by his aggressive posture, his right hand clutching a drawn arrow and his gaze fixed directly on Surgriva. Rama, however, gestures with confidence to Hanuman suggesting his acceptance of Surgriva’s invitation. Against a pale yellow ground, the artist has used the landscape of two distinct pink mountain forms to suggest the journey from Mt. Rishyamuka to Mt. Malaya. The stubborn Surgriva is seated in the vajrasana pose with his hands on his knees on the opposing mountain form. His dour expression is reflective of his uncertainty about the brother’s ability to assist in his mission to recapture his kingdom. All four principle figures are superbly rendered within a dramatic composition that represents a high point of pages normally associated with ‘style III’ of the celebrated Shangri Ramayana series. Rama’s form is especially notable with a slightly compressed spherical head and large almond eyes. His skin his heavily shaded and adorned with tilak markings, and his finely detailed textiles give substantial volume to his diminutive form. The pectoral definition of Lakshamana and Hanuman, together with the treatment of Hanuman’s left palm, are more closely aligned with the hand of the master artist who prevailed in style II. Surgriva is adorned with an elaborate gold and lotus crown, and a long red and blue sash swept backwards. The three animated attendant monkeys are unadorned and without clothes seated in defensive postures. Much remains to be discovered about how the artists responsible for the production of this remarkable series collaborated from one set to another. Regardless of the designation, the superb detail and dramatic impact of this page is undeniably by the hand of a master artist working at the beginning of the 18th century at the court of Bahu or Jammu.