“Illustrating Valmiki’s the Ramayana : a magnificent editorial adventure,  leading to an everlasting encounter between East and West”.

“Illustrating Valmiki’s the Ramayana : a magnificent editorial adventure, leading to an everlasting encounter between East and West”.

March 1, 2014

My first trip to India dates back to 1998. I have been fascinated by the beauty, the strength and the universality of the world’s “first poem”. The character of Rama with all of its philosophical connotations is ingrained in every Indian soul. In spite of its multi cultural fabric of Indian society, every ethnic group and social community has its own distinct interpretation of Rama and Ramayana. It is as good as a tale which has no end and history which goes on repeating itself in the cycle of life. Other than the written script of Ramayana, the hero, Rama comes alive in the temples of India”s hinterland, various forms of folk traditions and that combined, have left a vast treasure house of pictorial Ramayana.

 

The visual perspective of Ramayana adds adventure, sense of harmony and a sense of quest to the gradually unfolding opera which the book promises to provide.

 

While reading the text over and over again (the translation from Sanskrit to French by Madeleine Biardeau which had just come out), I felt the urge of editing and publishing an illustrated version of it.

 

I was convinced that this emblematic epic, along with the most magnificent and pertinent illustrations – illuminated manuscripts and miniatures from the 16th to the 19th century – would prove a dazzling revelation to a wider audience.

 

Although low-reliefs and sculptures illustrating the deeds of Rama have long adorned numerous temples in India and in south Asia, only in the late 16th century did the first illuminated manuscripts of the Ramayana appear; the foremost and most magnificent of these was ordered by the Mughal emperor Akbar from the leading artists at his court. Since then, hundreds more manuscripts have been produced, from schools of miniatures of very great richness and wide diversity.

 

It was in pursuit of these very manuscripts, now mostly broken up and dispersed throughout the world that we set out, finding very beautiful folios in museums and libraries in India, the United States and Europe, as well as in Pakistan,Qatar,Australia and Canada. We were also cordially welcomed by private collectors, by dealers and art galleries; indeed an extraordinary sense of solidarity grew up around our enormous search which took almost ten years. We identified more than five thousand miniatures, our research focusing essentially on the schools of northern India,  Mughal paintings, paintings from Rajasthan and from the hills of the Punjab, as well as from the Deccan Sultanate.

 

660 miniatures were chosen which faithfully accompany the various episodes in the tale, illuminating them with a wealth of detail, the richness of the landscapes, the manifold expressiveness of gaze and attitude, each artist lending to the scene his own way of seeing and imparting his own cultural references. Chosen for their style, beauty of composition, fineness of line, richness of color or ornamentation, these miniatures enhance the epic poetry of the work. See a sample at https://www.ramayanabook.com/

 

Today, it is my pleasure to present, not only a work of art, though it may be, but a testimony of civilization. I have always been lured by the desire to make treasures accessible to a greatest numbers of people, and to strengthen links between civilizations. See

 

The worldwide release of the English edition of the Ramayana takes a step forward towards this goal of mine.

 

Since my journey to India, I have been following in the footsteps of Rama, engrossed in reading the epic and in pursuit of miniatures. Along the way I feel as though I have glimpsed the essence of the text and its everlasting principles. Indeed, how could anyone not be carried away and seduced by the spirit of the Ramayana and the words of Rama: “Since life trickles away like the waters of a stream, never to return, happiness should be one’s aim—and people have found happiness, or so it is recorded.”