21/03/2014

INDIA’S EPIC REUNITED: finest surviving illustrated manuscript of the Ramayana now digitised and available online


Mewar Ramayana, Book 4_f.049r

  • One of the most beautiful manuscripts in the world, the Mewar Ramayana, is reunited online after being split between the UK and India for over 150 years
  • Over 370 stunning paintings from the 17th century manuscript now digitised
  • You can turn the pages of the digital Ramayana on www.bl.uk/ramayana

The Ramayana is one of the ancient epics of India, telling the stirring tale of Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his wife, Sita, following her abduction by the ten-headed demon king Ravana.

A major partnership between the British Library and CSMVS Museum in Mumbai has brought together a vividly illustrated 17th century manuscript of the story online, digitally reuniting over 600 folios which have been split between organisations in the UK and India for the last 150 years. For the first time, people around the world will be able to digitally explore the pages of the Mewar Ramayana manuscript, which was commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar in 1649 and produced in his court studio at Udaipur. The project, which has been three years in the making, is sponsored by the Jamsetji Tata Trust, the World Collections Programme, and the Friends of the British Library.

The Ramayana – “Rama’s journey” – is one of India’s oldest and most enduring stories. It was first told in the Sanskrit epic poem of Valmiki some two and a half thousand years ago. Since then it has been retold over and over in different forms in many languages of India and beyond. The story embodies the Hindu idea of dharma – duty, behaving correctly according to one’s position and role in society.

The Mewar Ramayana manuscript was created by several artists, whose exquisite and intricate paintings of gods, battles, landscapes and animals are among the finest examples of Indian art. Alongside the illustrations are over 800 pages of text in Sanskrit, which were copied by a single scribe while staying at different locations in Udaipur. The Mewar Ramayana is considered to be one of the most lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the epic. It came to be divided between collections held in the UK and India; four of the Ramayana books were presented to Lt. Col. James Tod by Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar in the early 19th century. He in turn donated them to the Duke of Sussex following his return to Britain in 1823, and the remaining books became dispersed over time.

The digital Mewar Ramayana will enable users to ‘turn’ the pages online in the unbound style reflecting the traditional Indian loose-leaf format, and interpretive text and audio will allow the broadest possible audience to study and enjoy this text in a whole new way. It will also transform access to the manuscript for researchers, who will have the text and paintings side by side in one place for the first time.

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said “The Mewar Ramayana is one of the world’s most lavish and beautiful manuscripts, and now thanks to the digital version, its pages can be studied and enjoyed by people anywhere online.”

“This partnership with CSMVS Museum is an innovative example of what can happen when organisations work together with a common aim to widen access to their collections. I am delighted to be in Mumbai with the Chairman of the British Library, Baroness Blackstone, to launch this superb new resource, and to celebrate the continued strong cultural links between Britain and India.”

Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General of CMSVS Museum said: “This is a unique collaborative project which accomplished all its objectives. Believing in the principle of universalism, we at the CSMVS, acknowledge the need to disseminate knowledge, expertise and resources through professional and virtual networks in addition to the circulation of material objects. This is our first collaborative project with the British Library and we wish to do similar kind of projects in the future. We thank Jamsetji Tata Trust for the support.”

The Jamsetji Tata Trust said “The Mewar Ramayana manuscript project, supported by the Jamsetji Tata Trust, is a joint collaboration between CSMVS Museum and British Library. The project is unique as it is not just across India and UK but re-unites the beautiful 17th century manuscript using digitisation and technology to enable wider access to a global audience. “

Notes to Editors:

You can see the digitised Mewar Ramayana on the CSMVS Museum website and the British Library's website.

The CSMVS Museum, or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, was formerly the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Mumbai.

The launch of the digital Ramayana will be marked by an event at CSMVS Museum in Mumbai on 21 March, attended by the British Library’s Chief Executive Roly Keating, and the Chairman of the British Library, Baroness Blackstone.

Owing to the large number of images in the Mewar Ramayana virtual book, it may take several minutes to download on slower internet connections. There is advice on the British Library’s website on how to get the best viewing experience for the browser you are using.

For more information contact:


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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.  



CSMVS Museum is a Grade I Heritage Building of the city. It has been awarded first place for Heritage Building Maintenance by the Indian Heritage Society. The Key Gallery, located in the central foyer, showcases a representative collection from the various sections of the Museum such as Archaeology, Indian Miniature Paintings, Indian Decorative Arts and the Chinese and Japanese collection. It thus gives an overview of the Museum’s rich collection. Our aim at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya is to create awareness of our rich ancient heritage among the people. Therefore, the museum, in addition to the artefacts that are showcased in the permanent galleries, regularly houses temporary exhibitions and lectures on a multitude of topics and also hosts special events. http://csmvs.in/
 

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