Two Pages from the Ramayana Made for Akbar’s mother, Hamidah Banu Begum

ink, gold and opaque watercolour on paper

text copied in nasta‘liq script; with 18 lines to the page

37.8 x 24.9cm (page)

The religious tolerance of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar, was in the eyes of his contemporaries excessive. He commissioned translations from the Hindu religious epics and held religious debates between Muslim clerics and Jesuit missionaries, but ultimately proclaimed his own syncretistic religion. The copy from which these pages are taken – a simplified version of the original text of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana – bears two inscriptions in the name of Hamidah Banu Begum, wife of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor and Akbar’s mother, who died in August 1604. 

  • The supernatural messenger (MSS 955.1a): a giant messenger, ‘bright as the flame of a lighted brazier’, appears with a dish of miraculous food, an embodiment of the god Vishnu, which causes the three queens of the childless King Dasaratha of Ayodhya to conceive. Of the four sons born to them, the noble child Rama is especially godlike. Dasaratha is shown surrounded by his Brahmin counsellors, who are drawing up their horoscopes.
  • Rama, Sita and Laksmana bid farewell (MSS 955.2a): when Rama has grown to manhood, faced with the demands of Dasaratha’s queen, Kaikeyi, that her own son should become ruler of Ayodhya, Rama retires into the forest, accompanied by his wife Sita and his brother Laksmana, leaving his father, Dasaratha, desolate with grief and the people of Ayodhya bereft.

L. York Leach, Paintings from India, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, volume VIII, London 1998, cat.8 and 9, pp.40–49.

J.M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, London 2010, cat.314, pp.272–3.