Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, toys for ritual display. Painted and varnished wood; 31 cm x 12 cm; 31 cm x 12 cm; 26 cm x 21 cm; 26 cm x 21 cm. Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. c. early 20th century. 23/48, 23/50, 23/49, 23/57.

Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, is famous for its folk tradition of annual performances of Rama Lila or plays enacting the life history of Shri Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and son of king Dashratha of the Solar dynasty. The painted and varnished wooden toys are made from a kind of soft, light wood locally known as bhurkul or gular.

The figures reveal the spirit of the Rama Lila both in artistic expression, particularly in the mode of attire and adornments, as well as in the iconic representation of the mythological characters of the epic Ramayana. Shri Rama is accompanied by his half-brother, Lakshmana, his faithful monkey devotee, Hanuman, and Sita his beloved wife. The four are depicted together for they are said to have spent more than 10 years together in the forest following Rama’s banishment from the kingdom, on the wishes of his step-mother Kaikeyi, who wanted her son Bharat to be crown prince of Ayodhya instead of Rama, the rightful heir.

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