By Lal et Jagajivan. Mughal School, 1588-1592. Gouache and gold on paper. Courtesy of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust, The City Palace, Jaipur.

By Lal et Jagajivan. Mughal School, 1588-1592. Gouache and gold on paper. Courtesy of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust, The City Palace, Jaipur.

An inexhaustible source of inspiration

At the end of the 16th century, the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605), anxious to foster exchanges between Hindus and Muslims, had the major works of classical Indian literature translated from Sanskrit into Persian, commanding painters of the imperial workshop to illustrate them.

The Ramayana was interpreted in a dazzling way and this version has been the inspiration for many illuminated manuscripts ever since.

Over a period of nearly three hundred years, thousands of Indian miniatures were painted in the Rajput kingdoms of Rajasthan, in the hills of the Punjab, in the sultanates of the Deccan, as well as in the Mughal court. Some of the finest are reproduced in this book to form a panorama of the very rich pictorial tradition of India never published before.

A dazzling iconography

Ten years of research allowed for almost five thousand miniatures of the Ramayana to be identified, among which 660 were chosen according to strict and well-defined criteria: style; beauty of layout and composition; wealth and boldness of colour; but also loyalty to the text of the Ramayana or, conversely, unexpected interpretation of scenes.

This stunning compilation of treasures of Indian art comprises major works from the foremost museums of India, Europe, the United States, Qatar, Singapore, Australia and Canada, as well as little known works kept in the secrecy of private collections. It is the fruit of an unparalleled photographic campaign.

The extraordinary Mughal manuscript commissioned by the emperor Akbar in the 1580s was the first to illustrate the Ramayana. Several of the one hundred and seventy-six miniatures from this manuscript, by the greatest artists of the imperial court, are reproduced in the book. The manuscript now belongs to the Maharaja Sawai.