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 as Vishwarupa Blesses Kaka Bhushundi With Wisdom, 1814, Style D, Master-artist from the second wave of migrations from Jaipur, PTG.02336

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