The Citadel of Lanka, a detail from "Hanuman Visists Sita in Lanka," Folio from a Ramayana (Adventures of Rama), c. 1775-1800; India, Gujarat.
Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The story of the Ramayana has been passed from generation to generation by numerous methods and media. Initially it was passed on orally as an epic poem that was sung to audiences by a bard, as it continues to be today. Over the centuries it has also been written down in numerous languages, creating thousands of different (but related) texts. With the important role that the Ramayana plays in Indian society, and particularly as a teaching tool for dharma and other Hindu concepts, it should not be surprising to discover that the story has also found its way into numerous other media as well. For example, components of the story are regularly performed in song, theater productions, and dance performances. The story can also be found depicted in the plastic arts, and in painting in particular, and continues to be visually recreated to the present day. The faces of Rama, Sita, and Hanuman appear in the every day life of many Indians, and the story has crossed over into media that was not even imagined at the time when the story was composed, such as modern movies, comic books and mass-produced calendars. The Ramayana's popularity has not waned over the centuries. For example, Indian national television filmed a 78 part production of the Ramayana that was shown on Sunday mornings in 1987 and 1988. The television series was so popular that the country came to a virtual stop as nearly everyone who could gain access to a television stopped what they were doing to watch the televised adventures of Rama.
In this lesson students will expand their visual literacy skills while gaining insight on the characters and key events of the Ramayana.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
Rama and Lakshmana are paired in their similar appearance and stance. Both offer attractive countenances with evenly proportioned bodies and no physical deformities. Rama is visually linked to his divine nature in the blue color of his skin, an attribute that links him with the sky and the heavens. Ravana, their enemy confronts them in his undisguised form, with his multiple heads and arms flailing. Both Ravana's supernatural strength and power, as well as his demonic nature, are exhibited in these physical traits. Rama, Lakshmana, and Ravana are all shown wearing crowns, reminding the viewer that they are all royalty. By highlighting the high social station of these characters, viewers are also reminded of the high responsibilities and heavy burdens that these characters carry if they are to behave according to dharma: when a leader behaves in a non-dharmic way, the consequence of his actions has a greater affect upon society. In short, with great power comes great responsibility. Thus, the crown reminds the viewer of the gravity of Ravana's non-dharmic actions. Finally, Hanuman is shown at the top of the image carrying the mountain top with the magical remedy that will, or perhaps already has, brought Lakshmana back to life. By showing Hanuman with this mountain top, the viewer is reminded of not only his supernatural abilities, but also his supernatural efforts to follow the instructions of his spiritual and earthly leader and to save Lakshmana's life. In this way the viewer is reminded of Hanuman's fulfillment of his duty, and his adherence to dharma.
Students will have a completed visual analysis chart for the image they have been assigned. In addition, students will be able to hand in the more expansive and detailed visual analysis of their completed interactive exercise. If all students do not have access to computers you may wish to assign them the task of completing a more detailed analysis in narrative form by having them answer the questions contained in the interactive, available here in PDF format.
1 class periods