Book of Gold: The Kanchana Chitra Ramayana of Banaras


Curated by the late Kavita Singh and Parul Singh, this exhibition shows how spirited the Indian painting tradition was, well into the nineteenth century. Challenging the older art historical narratives that miniature painting in northern India had faded by this time, is the story of a most ambitious illustrated manuscript made for the royal court of Banaras. Spanning from 1796 to 1814, over a period of eighteen years, several artists belonging to different schools converged to work on the manuscript of Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas. The book was known locally as the Kanchana Chitra Ramayana – the Golden Illustrated Ramayana.

Its name highlights two of its significant features. The first, ‘Kanchana’ or ‘Golden’, referred not just to the abundant use of gold paint in its folios, but also to the scale of the project as a whole, for which no expense seems to have been spared. Gold is lavishly used in its resplendent folios — in the form of delicate lines between the lines and punctuation marks in the text pages; as well as spread out across the painted pages as intricate scrollwork on depicted textiles, the glow of the dawn sky, entire walls of magnificent palaces and vast cityscapes; and the broad margins of all the folios, both text and image. The suffix ‘Chitra’ underlined the prominence of paintings in this book: every text page had a facing painting, totalling about 548 paintings.

For the first time, this exhibition brings together nearly eighty pages from the manuscript. Through exploring the historical context in which it was made, it showcases the diversity of artists involved, and the ingenuity of the narratives they devised for this monumental artistic endeavour.

Click here to look at the Ramcharitmanas Digital Flipbook.


Rama in His Vishwarupa Form, 1814, Style D, Artists employing the visual language of Awadh and Jaipur, PTG.02336

Buy the Book of Gold: The Kanchana Chitra Ramayana of Banaras publication today from the MAP Shop

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication that is edited and co-authored by the late Kavita Singh and Parul Singh, accompanied by research from six world renowned scholars of art and architecture, literature and performance studies. This exhibition brings together more than 75 folios of the Chitra Ramayana, a previously unknown but ambitious illustrated manuscript made for the Royal Court of Banaras between 1796 and 1814, and the publication provides us valuable context to the understanding of these precious folios.

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