Chitrakathi or “illustrated legend”. Natural pigments on handmade paper; 44 cm x 32 cm. Maharashtra. c. late 19th century. 7/4315.

The Chitrakathis, a nomadic community of storytellers, were once found all over Maharashtra and some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Until quite recently they would travel from village to village, unpack their pothi or bundle of rectangular paintings, and begin their long sessions of narrating myths and legendsDetail of Garoda scroll. Water colours on paper; 279 cm x 56 cm. Gujarat. c. mid-20th century. 88/5/D. The Garodas are a community of traditional storytellers from Gujarat who are known not only for painting and narrating legends, but also for painting horoscopes for newly born children. Unlike the chitrakatha, or storytelling traditions from Bengal and Rajasthan, the painted scrolls of the Garodas depict many legends in a single scroll. The picture scrolls, known as tipanu in Gujarati, meaning “recording” or “remark”, are usually more than 3 m long and 35 cm broad and generally depict the following scenes: A shrine in the centre of which is a full vase topped by a coconut; two horsemen in profile representing the heroes Aldang and Ni clang; four-armed Ganesha, often accompanied by his wives Riddhi and Siddhi; Shiva, usually riding his vehicle the bull Nandi, often flanked by goddesses, one of whom holds a snake, or bow and arrow, and the other a scorpion; goddess Lakshmi; the local story of Dhana Baghat; two goddesses, one riding a tiger, the other a cock (local goddess Bahuchara), killing the buffalo demon; Krishna quelling the snake king Kaliya; the Shravana episode from the Ramayana, depicting Dasharatha aiming his arrow at the youth carrying his blind parents seated on planks suspended from a pole slung across his shoulders; Rama and Lakshmana aiming at a two-headed deer, while Sita is sitting in a garden pavilion; two-armed Hanuman; ten-headed Ravana; the story of the truthful king Harishchandra; the game amli-pipli played between the Pandavas and Kauravas, wherein an over-sized figure of Bhima, with half his body in red and the other half in silver, is shaking the tree; the legend of Chelaiyyo, popular in Gujarat; Ramdev Pir of Ranuja, one of the deified heroes of Rajasthan, depicted by his footprints, his horse and his bride Netal; and finally the various punishments in hell and rewards in heaven. The detail here depicts the game of amli-pipli. from the epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the vast “ocean” of folklore and local legends preserved in their oral tradition.

The most typical features of the Chitrakathi paintings are their bold and powerful drawings in thick black outlines. The human figures are shown both in profile as well as in frontal view, while the animals are mainly in profile. The faces are stereotyped with a high forehead, a prominent pointed nose, a curve for the mouth, and one for the chin, while a red line indicates the lips. The eyes are the most animated feature of these paintings for they are conceived as large white circles marked by a black dot for the pupil in the centre.

This particular piece depicts Sita, wife of Rama, who was abducted by the chief of the demons Ravana, sitting pensively in the Ashoka grove guarded by two demons holding swords and shields, while Hanuman, concealing himself in the foliage of the tree above Sita, identifies himself as Rama’s messenger by dropping Rama’s ring into Sita’s outstretched palm.

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