This magnificent painting is an art form rendered in Kangra art style prevalent around the early nineteenth century, painted in a precise and naturalistic form; each of the faces are well modelled in a side profile and shaded in delicacy. This painting is not just a single story, but a concoction of different lives and circumstances. Sita is represented as a silent power of suffering and sacrifice, as, when she was abducted by the demon Ravana, her consort Ram and brother-in-law, Lakshman took revenge against him and killed him to rescue Sita, but to be accepted again with that same chastity and queenship by the people of Ayodhya and Lord Ram himself, Sita had to pass through many challenges.
When Sita was asked to undertake the fire ordeal again, after she returned to the kingdom with her sons, she was revived of the previous emotional traumas and hence prayed Mother Earth to embrace her if she had been true to Rama in mind, speech and action. This painting is a depiction of what happened after this prayer; ground beneath her feet split wide open and Mother Earth perched on her bejewelled throne ascends out and spreads her arms beckoning Sita to leave this unworthy world and before anybody could react, she enters the depths; Lord Rama, colored in deep blue seems engulfed in grief on realising the current scenario.
The artist has amazingly portrayed the vibrant color combinations and the densely populated area, where each and every person of the kingdom and outside, is painted in realistic expressions of shock and grief keeping in mind the focal theme of shringar. The painter has chosen for a dark and dull colored floral background as the border to enhance the primary scene effectively.
The painting is based on the depiction of the legend as it has been described in the Uttar-kanda in the Ramayana by sage Valmiki. Tulsidasa has excluded it in his Rama Charit-Manasa. The episode appears variously in other versions of Rama-katha, though the painting is based primarily on the Valmiki’s Ramayana. As the Ramayana puts it, Sita, after she was exiled by Rama, was living at the ‘ashram’ – hermitage of sage Valmiki. It was here that her sons Lava and Kusha were born. By the time they grew to boyhood sage Valmiki had composed his epic Ramayana narrating primarily the sad plight of Sita. After sage Valmiki knew that Rama was performing Ashva medha-yajna he decided to take Lava, Kusha and Sita to the court of Rama at Ayodhya and put her case before him.
Lava and Kusha had learnt the Ramayana by heart and could recite it any time in their sweet voice. In the full Rama-durbar they recited it and through it convinced all present that Sita was sinless and pure. Valmiki also testified Sita’s purity and wished that Rama accepted her. Rama agreed to accept Sita though on the condition that in full court before all she once again proved her purity. Earlier she had done so through fire ordeal. However, instead of proving her purity by taking an oath or otherwise, Sita prayed the mother Earth, of whom she was born, to take her back into her womb as she was tired of proving her purity over and again. Instantly the earth cleaved and from under it appeared the mother Earth and taking Sita into her lap disappeared under the earth.
In the painting performance of Ashva Medha yajna has been symbolised by the fire kindled under the temporarily raised tent. Rama is seated on a carpet while all, Bharata, Lakshmana, Sugriva, Angad, Hanuman and Nila among others, are standing behind him. Opposite Rama are seated sage Chyavana and sage Valmiki and by their side stand Lava and Kusha and two of the acolytes from the hermitage of sage Valmiki. In the centre of the canvas has been portrayed Sita with her folded hands raised in prayer and the mother Earth riding a chowki which the great serpent Shesh is supporting on its head holding Sita to her bosom.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.