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Rāma’s Story at Prambanan

high-definition creative commons photographs from Prambanan in Java showing the Reliefs illustrating the story of Rāma together with further information.


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Śiva Temple

Introduction to Rāma’s Story

The heroic story of prince Rāma tells how he gave up a kingdom to honour his father’s word, fought against a host of powerful enemies to retrieve his kidnapped wife, and lived a life in accordance with Dharma. There are scores of different tellings of the story known in both Sanskrit, all the Indian vernaculars and in the local languages of south-east Asia, where it has had a profound influence on the cultures of the region.

It is known in many different forms also, and has been told in poetry and prose, dance and puppet theatre, and in recent years in film and television all across the region, and has proved to be one of the most enduring stories of mankind. Significantly it is also told in family settings and many children in Asia count the story amongst their earliest memories.

Today the most familiar form, which is regarded as the classical telling, is known as Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa, and this is the version best known at present. I will follow this in the names and terminology, while pointing out the differences that exist.

Another important text is the Old Javanese Rāmāyaṇa-Kakawin which follows the story known to Vālmīki fairly closely at the beginning of the story, but deviates greatly in the latter sections; and a group of texts known as the Malay hikayats (stories), especially the Hikayat Seri Rama. I will refer to these occasionally.

One difficulty that presents itself when the text is unsure, we also find many times at Borobudur: the gods and royals are often portrayed in very similar fashion; as are brahmins and rākṣasas. It is often only context that can help us here, and when that is missing identifications become problematic.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, I outline the story here, bearing in mind the stories we can see on the reliefs at Prambanan.

Rāma, the main hero of our story, was the first born son of King Daśaratha through his wife Kausalyā at the capital city of Ayodhya. Shortly after his brothers Bharata, Lakṣmaṇa and Śatrughna were born to two of his other wives.

When they had grown up the sage Viśwāmitra came to the king, and requested help because the rākṣasas (supernatural beings with ill intent) were disturbing the sacred sacrifices. The story is then told of how Rāma killed the rākṣaṣī Tāṭakā and her sons.

When he was old enough to marry, the king of Vedehi announced a festival in which a husband would be found for his beautiful adopted daughter Sītā, whom he had found in a furrow when he was living as a hermit in the wilds. There was a test of strength in which Śiva’s bow was to be bent. No one could even lift it, except Rāma, who thereby gained Sītā as his wife.

In a parallel story told shortly thereafter, on the way back from the marriage Rāma was challenged by Paraśurāma, who was the enemy of the warrior class. This time Rāma proved his worth by lifting, stringing and shooting from the bow of Viṣṇu.

Back in Ayodhya Rāma was destined for the throne, but one of the junior wives of the king, being persuaded by her handmaiden, decided to call in a boon the king had granted her, and demanded that her son Bharata be elected crown prince, and that Rāma be banished to the forest for fourteen years.

The king was mightily upset by this, but he had to keep his word and so had no choice. Rāma, however, was unperturbed, understanding that the word of his father was to be accepted, no matter what was asked of him. He and his younger brother Lakṣmaṇa, together with Sītā, therefore left the royal city for a hard life in the wilderness.

King Daśaratha was grief stricken by the loss of his sons and daughter-in-law, and died soon after, being accepted into heaven. Bharata then went into the forest and requested Rāma to return and mount the throne, but Rāma would not break his word given to his father, and determined to live out his exile. Instead he gave his sandals to be placed on the throne as a sign of his authority while Bharata ruled.

After Bharata had left Rāma defeated the rākṣasa Virādha who had seized Sītā in a presage of what was to come. After this episode the heroes met the sage Śarabhaṅga who requested permission to return to heaven, which was granted. He died while in deep concentration.

The trio then entered deeper into the forests and Lakṣmaṇa built a small hut for them there. While living there the rākṣasī Śūrpaṇakhā, the sister of Rāvaṇa, who was full of lust, sought out first Rāma, and then Lakṣmaṇa as husband. She was rejected and sent away after being maimed. Two of her powerful brothers who tried to avenge her were also killed.

She then called upon her brother Rāvaṇa, the king of Laṅkā, and the most powerful rākṣasa on earth to help avenge her honour, and told him of Sītā’s great beauty, which made him desire her for himself. Through trickery Sītā is isolated from Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, and is carried off by Rāvaṇa. As he was carrying her off, he was opposed by the divine bird Jaṭāyus, an old friend of the king Daśaratha’s, but the bird was killed in the fight.

After further adventures in the forest the brothers met the monkey Hanumān and the exiled monkey-king Sugrīva. Rāma agreed to help the king regain his territory if the king will help him find Sītā, and so the deal is agreed. Rāma then kills the usurper Vālin, reinstalls Sugrīva and later calls in his promise.

Sugrīva sent out his monkey spies in all directions, and Hanumān is the one assigned to go south. He crossed the seas at the bottom of India and entered the remote island of Laṅkā and eventually found Sītā held captive in a grove near the city. He gives tidings of Rāma and promised to help Sītā gain her freedom.

On his way back Hanumān allowed himself to be captured and managed to burn down most of the city, before escaping and reporting back to Rāma. His army then makes its way to the south, but found its progress was blocked by the seas that stand between India and Laṅkā. With the help of the gods a land bridge across the seas was constructed and they crossed over.

On Rāvaṇa’s side many of his allies had tried to persuade him to give up Sītā, who was being held against her will, and against Dharma, but he was too stubborn and vain and refused the requests. His brother Vibhīsaṇa left him over this dispute and came over to Rāma’s side. He would prove to be invaluable to Rāma’s cause.

After crossing over Rāma progressed to the Suvela mountain which overlooked the city of Laṅkā and together with the monkey-hordes took up position. After an indecisive, opening battle Rāma sent Aṅgada as an ambassador to Rāvaṇa, but the king would not accept any terms, and the ambassador returned, having been rebuffed.

There followed a number of single combats, all of which Rāvaṇa’s allies lost. At that point he sent his son Indrajit, who had magic powers, onto the battlefield. He had a set of magical snake-arrows which tied up both Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, bringing despair into their camp. Although all look lost, the snakes fled when Garuḍa appeared, and the brothers regained their strength again.

More battles ensued until Rāvaṇa himself entered the fray and fought against Rāma. The fight ended indecisively, and Rāvaṇa again sent another of his brothers, the giant Kumbhakarṇa, into the battle. He too was beaten, and finally in solo combat Rāvaṇa was killed by Rāma.

Once his great foe is out of the way, it was not long before Rāma was rejoined with Sītā. The prince had some doubts about her fidelity while in custody, but Sītā underwent a trial by fire and proved her innocence to all concerned. Vibhīsaṇa was installed as king of Laṅkā, and the heroes, who had now been in exile for fourteen years made the long trip back to their capital Ayodhya, where they were due to live happily ever after.

That was without doubt the end of the original telling of the story, but later it was extended to include such things as Rāvaṇa’s backstory, Śatrughna’s heroic deeds, and most importantly: the continuation of Rāma’s story till he re-entered heaven. The builders of Prambanan also knew this extension, and allotted the final fifteen reliefs to the telling of the rest of Rāma’s story.

Some time after the return Sītā was found to be pregnant, and the city folk started gossiping about her. Rāma was so ashamed of this scandal that he decided to abandon her to the care of the sages in the wilderness, whom she had expressed a desire to honour.

Lakṣmaṇa therefore took her out into the forests and, after reporting Rāma’s will to her, left her there. She took up residence under the care of the greatest of sages, Vālmīki, in a nearby nunnery, which is where she gave birth. As her sons grew up Vālmīki taught them Rāma’s full history in verse (this is the Rāmāyaṇa itself).

After a long time of living righteously Rāma announced he was giving one of the rarest of the Vedic sacrifices, the horse sacrifice (aśvamedha), a year long festival that only the greatest of kings could afford. Kings, princes and sages from all over the country were invited, including many of the heroes of the story, like the monkey kings.

The sage Vālmīki was also invited and he brought Rāma’s sons with him and told them to perform the Rāmāyaṇa in front of the king. Everyone was enchanted with the story and its performance, which was accompanied by music, and Rāma eventually recognised his sons, and sent once more for Sītā, whom he planned to reinstall as queen.

When Sītā arrived Rāma asked that she make a solemn affirmation of her chastity in court, but Sītā called on the earth goddess to witness to her fidelity, and she descended back into the earth from whence she had come. Rāma then appointed his sons to rule in his place, and with a great many followers returned to heaven, bringing the story to its final conclusion.

Although now the best known version of the story is that known as the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa and the various derivatives in other media, for most of its existence it was known better by the local vernacular version, which was told and retold in the regions and countries it was recounted.

Although it is clear that the main outline of the story, as set out above, was adhered to, it is also certain that the builders of Prambanan knew a story that differed from the Vālmīki telling. It is mainly in the details that the differences appear, and in what follows I have retold the story and pointed out the divergences we can see from Vālmīki’s version of events.

Most of these variations can be accounted for by reference to other tellings of the story, but it is beyond the scope of this book to go that deeply into the matter, which would in many cases require a scholarly treatment, rather than a simple re-presentation.

Rāma’s Story (Opening)

The reliefs here were still more or less in place when the site was rediscovered in the 19th century, and the reliefs are in fairly good condition. They consist of 30 sections, some of which are very wide and have multiple scenes on them. In the photographs which follow I have sometimes had to split these into two or three sections and comment on them separately.


01a Appearing before Lord Viṣṇu

This is the left hand side of the wide first panel in the series. At the centre we see Lord Viṣṇu, who is sitting on the serpent Śeṣa. He has four arms, and a halo behind his head. On the far left we see his vehicle Garuḍa who is holding a blue lotus in offering.

The identification of characters on the right is not certain. I think myself, the older man at the front is king Daśaratha. The four royals are his four sons who in the story incarnate Viṣṇu (Rāma) and his attributes: Śeṣa (Lakṣmaṇa), Śaṅkha (the conch, seen in the left upper hand, Bharata); and Cakra (the wheel, seen in the upper right hand, Śatrughna). This then would be a symbolic representation, not a naturalistic one. Others have postulated they represent the gods (Vogel); or the king and his wives (Groneman).

01b Sage Viśvāmitra approaches King Daśaratha

This is the other half of the wide first relief. On the left we see King Daśaratha, together with one of his wives, perhaps it is Kauśalyā, the mother of Prince Rāma. Behind her is a female figure, she is royal, and is probably the King’s daughter (unknown to Vālmīki). In the centre are four male figures, which must, I think, be the four sons of the King.

On the far right we see a sage. This would be the sage Viśvāmitra. Above him, in the doorway, is the gatekeeper he asks to speak to the king on his behalf. Notice the bird in front of the sage who is drinking from a water pot. Also the other birds and animals which are pictured around the scene, including an elephant with a bell round its neck.

02 Viśvāmitra makes his request to Daśaratha

In the centre is Viśvāmitra, who has come to request the king to send Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa to fight off the rākṣasas who are ruining the sacrifices made by the sages in the forest wildernesses. The king was at first reluctant, but finally conceded to the request.

On the left we see king Daśaratha, now surrounded by his three wives, Kauśalyā, Kaikeyī and Sumitrā, and on the right are four disciples of the sage, who is pictured with a halo behind his head. On the top right a saddler is having trouble keeping the horses calm.

03 Rāma kills Tāṭakā

Tāṭakā was the beautiful daughter of Suketu who was married to Sunda. When the sage Agastya caused Sunda’s death he also cursed Tāṭakā, who became an ugly, but still powerful, rākṣaṣī. She had disturbed Viśvāmitra’s sacrifices, and was one of reasons Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa were called to the forest, which is where they killed her.

In the relief slightly left of centre we see Rāma drawing back his bow and shooting his arrows at Tāṭakā, on the far right. She here lies with a number of shafts piercing her body, probably it is her son, Mārīca, who is behind her and facing away from the main action. Behind Rāma stands Viśvāmitra, and behind him is Lakṣmaṇa.

04 Viśvāmitra watches Rāma defeat his Enemies

Tāṭakā having been killed, Viśvāmitra began his sacrifices again. Meanwhile Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa fasted during the first five days and then armed with weapons from the gods, went out to confront her sons, Mārīca and Suvāhu, who also were killed by Rāma, as were all other rākṣaṣas who had disturbed the holy rites of the saints.

On the left we see Viśvāmitra attending to the elaborate sacrifice, with two disciples behind him. The altar is very finely drawn and stands between the scenes. On the right Rāma is killing Tāṭakā’s sons, one of whom, still holding his club, is already fallen.

05 Rāma bends Janaka’s Bow

After living as an ascetic for some years Janaka decided to resume his kingship. Before he left the wilderness he found the infant girl Sītā in a furrow as he was ploughing his field, and adopted her. Later, when at marriageable age, he swore to give her to the one who could bend Śiva’s bow. All failed, till Rāma came along and succeeded.

Here we have two scenes. On the left, under a canopy, we see Viśvāmitra sitting with Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, and advising the former to see if he could bend the bow. On the right we see Rāma successfully bending it, and what must be Sītā looking on. Rāma’s strength was so great he broke the bow, and with this deed he won Sītā’s hand in marriage.

06a Paraśurāma challenges Rāma

King Daśaratha came from Ayodhya to Janaka’s capital at Mithila to attend the wedding. After the nuptials were over, the king, his sons, new daughter-in-law, and his army set out to return to his own capital. Along the way Rāma was challenged by Paraśurāma, the scourge of the warrior class, who had the bow of Viṣṇu.

This is again one of the very wide panels, divided here into three photographs. Here we see only the left section. Towards the centre we see Rāma standing with Sītā, who is easily identifiable, with Lakṣmaṇa on the far left. Behind them are members of their entourage. On the right hand side we see Paraśurāma carrying the bow, with akṣa beads around his neck. Who stands in front of him is not clear. The relief is damaged which makes identification even more difficult. Behind Paraśurāma come his companions.

06b Rāma shoots from Paraśurāma’s Bow

Through inheritance Paraśurāma had gained the bow that had once belonged to Viṣṇu, and had been passed down in his family. None were able to bend the bow, let alone shoot from it. Having heard that Rāma had bent and broken Śiva’s bow, he challenged him to try the same with Viṣṇu’s. Rāma, of course, accepted the challenge and shot an arrow from the bow, destroying Paraśurāma’s strength as he did so.

The main character in this scene is Rāma, who with lithe body, stretches the bow and shoots from it into the jungle on the right. Presumably the person behind Rāma’s left arm would be king Daśaratha. An attendant kneels on the floor holding the bag of arrows. Lakṣmaṇa stands behind Rāma wearing the crown. Notice also the pangolin and the snake with the mushrooms in between on the jungle floor.

06c Rāma and Sītā back in Ayodhya

Stutterheim identifies this as queen Kaikeyī asking that her son Bharata be appointed king, and not Rāma. I do not see how this relief can fit that scene, as what we see is a royal is sitting with his wife and foodstuffs, and attendants are sitting around, things that definitely weren’t present when Kaikeyī made her request. Rather this must be a simple scene showing Rāma and Sītā back in Ayodhya, and enjoying their life together, perhaps preparing for his crowning.

A royal couple is sitting inside a pavilion. I believe the halo behind the male’s head must identify Rāma here. Behind them are two young attendants, one of whom has a flower in his hair, marking his age. Sītā points at the abundance of food in front of them. I think it is Lakṣmaṇa sitting on a high seat, and on the right are five more young attendants.

07a Rehearsal for Rāma’s Coronation

Stutterheim takes this as the coronation of Bharata, but this seems never to have taken place, and so must be wrong. Rather it appears to be the rehearsal taking place for Rāma’s ascension as crown prince. After their return to Ayodhya king Daśaratha decided to retire and anoint his eldest son Rāma as crown prince. Everything was got ready for the appointment.

On the left we see Rāma, with the halo behind him, sitting in princely fashion. The person sitting next to him, in the same posture, would then be Lakṣmaṇa. Brahmins stand around them and are presumably going over the ceremonies that will soon take place. In the centre a dancer holds a sword and a shield, and beyond her are the musicians who play various instruments.

07b Queen Kaiyeyī asks for Rāma’s Banishment

An evil handmaid to queen Kaikeyī persuaded her that her son, Bharata, should be chosen in place of Rāma, and reminded her the king had given her boons which had yet to be called in. The queen, being persuaded, stripped and retired to the Grievance Chamber, and awaited the king. When he came she made the request that Rāma be banished and Bharata be installed as crown prince. The king could not refuse her as was bound by his vow.

King Daśaratha is seen here turning away from queen Kaikeyī who insists on her son ascending the throne. The king is evidently very distressed and rests his upper body on a large cushion. The queen is behind him, and seemingly in defiant mood. Behind her I would take it is the maid Mantharā, who came up with the plan. Outside are seen the royal elephant and a horse, together with the attendants who wait anxiously the outcome.

07c Rāma, Sīta and Lakṣmaṇa head to the Wilderness

The king was persuaded to call for Rāma and to announce his banishment. On the way Rāma, and indeed the whole city, thought he was being called to announce the enthronement. When he heard the news Rāma accepted it calmly, as the word of a father cannot be argued with, and his father’s honour was at stake. His faithful brother Lakṣmaṇa determined to accompany him, as did his new wife Sītā.

Rāma sits in the middle of the chariot and is driving it out to the wilderness. It is being drawn by two horses who are yoked to the vehicle. Behind Rāma is Lakṣmaṇa, who is seen leaning against a back rest. Sītā is seen near the front. All three have halos, as befits the heroes of this story. As we see people following along behind the chariot, this must be before they escaped from the people and entered deeper into the woods.

08 Daśaratha’s Funeral

After Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sītā had left for the wilderness the people returned to the city, and the king, seeing them return without his sons, grew listless and eventually died from his sorrow. Bharata was now summoned from his uncle’s home, and the funeral preparations were begun.

In the centre we see the funeral pyre with banana leaves either side of it. On top lies what looks like a coffin. It is somewhat odd that we do not see any officiating brahmins. To the left are the workmen, still holding their tools, who have made the preparations. On the right is a distribution of alms, probably made later. The queen would be Kausalyā, and next to her presumably is Bharata.

09 Rāma gives his sandals to Bharata

After the funeral Bharata and the townsfolk drove out into the wilderness and retraced Rāma’s path until they came to the hermitage where they dwelled. Being unable to persuade Rāma to break his promise to his father, Bharata accepted that he must rule in Rāma’s place, and Rāma gave him his sandals as a sign of his authority to rule.

We probably have to take this as three scenes in one relief. On the left Bharata is approaching the hermitage on horseback, in the middle he has stepped down, and with a lotus in hand, approaches Rāma. On the right Rāma is handing his sandals to Bharata as a sign that he rules by the rightful heir’s authority.

10 Rāma defeats Virādha

After Bharata had returned to Ayodhya, the three heroes of the story continued their way through Daṇḍaka forest, meeting sages along the way. After leaving one hermitage they met with the demon Virādha, who seized Sītā for his wife. When Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa fought against him he dropped Sītā and ran away with the brothers under his arm. As he was protected by Brahmā, Virādha could not be killed, but when he understood who the attackers were he acceded to being buried and the curse being lifted from him, he returned to heaven. The three then entered the sage Śarabhaṅga’s hermitage.

The difficulty in this relief is that it appears that the three are pictured twice, once on the left, with a servant behind them, and then in the middle. On the left then they enter the Daṇḍaka forest, while in the centre Rāma shoots at Virādha who falls to the ground. Sītā is pictured distraught on her knees here after being released by the rākṣasa. On the far right we see Śarabhaṅga attending the sacred fire.

11 Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa in the Hermitage

Śarabhaṅga requested permission to return to heaven, and, after entering samādhi (deep concentration), did just that. The heroes then wandered further through the forest and engaged in austerities, the meantime protecting the sages who dwelt there performing Vedic sacrifices. After some time Lakṣmaṇa built a small hermitage for them to live in.

On the far left we see two tigers within the forestry, then an ascetic, which all signify we are deep in the wilderness now. In the centre we see two male figures inside a small pavilion. It specifically says in Vālmīki that, as we see here, Rāma put his arm round Lakṣmaṇa’s shoulder while thanking him for building the abode.

We have an unsolvable problem on the right hand side of this relief. Groneman thinks it is the first meeting with the divine bird Jaṭāyus. The problem with this is we have more encounters with that bird later in the reliefs, and he does not look like he does here, and nor does Rāma threaten him as here.

Stutterheim thinks it must be the killing of Khara. But that happens subsequently to the mutilation of Śūrpaṇakhā, which comes up next. I think myself we must have depicted here an interpolated legend which is now lost in our stories, where Rāma fends off some unknown avian.

12a Śūrpaṇakhā visits Rāma

While the three in the wilderness dwelt, the rākṣasī Śūrpaṇakhā, the sister of the villain of the story, Rāvaṇa, saw him and fell deeply in love with his fair form. When approached, however, Rāma declared his love for Sītā, and suggested she seek after his brother Lakṣmaṇa, who was unmarried.

We might be pressed to identify the two females in the middle of this relief, but they appear again in the next one where we are certain of the action. It is Śūrpaṇakhā who has the offerings and an ugly maidservant, not mentioned in any of the texts, who is behind her. Rāma sits in front of an unexpectedly elaborate building on the left. Perhaps the woman on the right holding the blue lotus is meant to be Sītā.

12b The Dismissal of Śūrpaṇakhā

Śūrpaṇakhā then approached Lakṣmaṇa who in turn rejected her, saying he was but a slave of his brother, and she should again apply to him. Śūrpaṇakhā then returned to Rāma and seized Sītā in a bid to replace her. Rāma ordered Lakṣmaṇa to strike her and he cut off her nose and ear, and sent her scurrying back to her brothers.

The couple on the left have never been identified and I also have no suggestions. In the middle we see a male figure who is threatening Śūrpaṇakhā and her handmaid, who curiously holds both the fearless and teaching postures (mudrā). The male figure could be either Rāma or Lakṣmaṇa, perhaps the latter is more likely.

12c Rāma shoots the Golden Deer

Śūrpaṇakhā called upon her brothers to avenge her disgrace, and they went to battle with the brothers, but were defeated and killed. She then retired to her elder brother Rāvaṇa in Lanka, and described the beauty of Sītā to entice him to carry her off. Rāvaṇa then got the rākṣasa Mārīca to appear as a golden bejewelled deer and to decoy Rāma away from Sītā. Once shot the deer took back its natural form and called out for help in the voice of Rāma, which caused Sītā to send Lakṣmaṇa away and into the forest, leaving her unprotected and alone.

I think we see two scenes here portrayed simultaneously. Rāma has gone into the forest to capture the deer, and has shot him. The deer then reverts to his form as a rākṣasa, and calls out in Rāma’s voice. On the left Sītā has heard this and is telling Lakṣmaṇa, who sits in front of her, to go help Rāma.

13a Rāvaṇa carries off Sītā

While Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa were off in the woods, distracted by Mārīca, Rāvaṇa assumed the form of a holy brahmin, and tried to woo Sītā away, first telling her the woods were unsafe, and then promising her the riches of his kingdom. When she rebuffed him he sought to carry her off to Laṅkā.

The central scene here, of course, is Rāvaṇa, still in his brahmin form, seizing Sītā, who vainly tries to flee. Most of the other signs on this tableau are inauspicious: a monkey seizes a banana from a child, two birds threaten a lizard, a woman shrieks and a large rodent eats from an upturned basket. On the far right a parasol has been knocked down in the struggle.

13b Jaṭāyus fights Rāvaṇa

Rāvaṇa then assumed his natural form, which was ten-headed, and demonic, and mounted his chariot and flew off with Sītā. The divine-bird Jaṭāyus sought to intervene and rescue her, but he was mortally wounded by Rāvaṇa during the ensuing fight.

On the left we see Jaṭāyus risen into the sky to fight against Rāvaṇa. The latter sits with his arm interlocked around Sītā’s and thrusts forth a lance at the bird. Rāvaṇa is pictured here with ten heads and we also see ten arms, each holding a different weapon. They sit on a platform which is being carried by another rākṣasa, and Sītā is handing her ring to the bird, details that depart from Vālmīki’s telling of the story.

13c Jaṭāyus gives Sītā’s Ring to Rāma

The brothers, after returning to the hermitage, found Sītā missing, and wondered what had become of her. They wandered about till they found signs of Jaṭāyus’ fight with Rāvaṇa, and the bird lying dying on the floor. Jaṭāyus passed Sītā’s ring to Rāma and explained what had happened, and afterwards died.

This is a fairly simple scene: Rāma, with his hand upholding his head, sits with Lakṣmaṇa while they listen to the story that Jaṭāyus is telling. The bird himself is pictured holding Sītā’s ring in his mouth, and looks like a parrot as he is sometimes pictured in southeast Asia. Below Rāma is one of his servants who is evidently carrying a bow and arrow for his master. The two men on the right are part of the next scene.

13d Rāma shoots Kabandha

After leaving Jaṭāyus the brothers headed safe into the dangerous jungles of south India. Here they came across the deformed Kabandha, who had been cursed by Indra, and who could only be released by Rāma killing him. After being shot he advised the brothers to team up with Sugrīva, who would be able to find the whereabouts of Sītā.

In Vālmīki Kabandha is described as having no head, and only a mouth around his stomach, and a single eye above. Here we see he has two faces and four eyes, and again this shows the text known to the sculptors differed from Vālmīki’s telling of the story. We see here Rāma shooting the arrow which kills Kabandha and releases him from the curse. The arrow appears to go right through him. It is unclear who the character on the right sitting on the lotus would be.

14 Rāma defeats a Crocodile

The story on this relief is unknown to any retelling of the Rāma story I am aware of. But in a compendium of stories about a hero it is perhaps not unexpected that extra stories would be attracted in. Here we see Rāma shooting at a crocodile, another difficulty he may have had to overcome in some other telling of the story.

It seems we have two time frames. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa and an attendant are pictured on the left; then Rāma is seen shooting his bow at the crocodile on the right. I think this could be parallel to the Kabandha story, and the lady we see above the crocodile may have been released from that form through the killing by Rāma, something that happens many times in the story.

15 Hanumān approaches the Brothers

While wandering in the forests the brothers came to Riṣyamukha, which was where the monkey-king Sugrīva lived. Fearing they were somehow in league with his brother Vālin, who had caused his exile, Sugrīva sent his commander Hanumān to investigate. Hanumān knew from their words and bearing they were no enemies, but could help Sugrīva beat Vālin and regain his land.

In Vālmīki the brothers are described as wearing ascetic garb, and Hanumān as taking on human form, but the sculptors have ignored all that. The relief has two scenes: on the left the brothers in royal garb and an attendant are in discussion with the monkey Hanumān; while on the right they are being led back through the forest to meet with Sugrīva.

16 Rāma and Sugrīva

Stutterheim has shown convincingly that the sculptors here were following something close the Rāma hikayats wherein Lakṣmaṇa goes to get water for Rāma and brings back a quiver full of water. When tasted, however, it is salty. The reason being that it comes from Sugrīva’s tears. Rāma then meets the monkey-king and tells him he will help him.

The scenes are not in the order we would expect, perhaps in order to place Sugrīva at the centre of the relief. There we see him sat in a tree, and grieving. Lakṣmaṇa is below filling his quiver with water. On the left he then offers it to Rāma, who is also saddened by his own loss. On the right we see Rāma standing and Sugrīva in worshipful pose.

17 Rāma proves his Strength

Sugrīva, who knew his brother Vālin’s strength well, feared that Rāma would not be capable to defeating his enemy, and asked him to prove his strength. Rāma first threw the corpse of the rākṣasa Dundubhi twenty leagues away with a flick of his foot. Still Sugrīva was not satisfied and asked that he pierce a tree with his arrow. Rāma replied by piercing seven with one shot. It then passed through the underworlds before returning to his quiver!

On the left we see first an attendant, then Lakṣmaṇa carrying a lotus. Next to him Rāma has shot his arrow. Unfortunately, Rāma’s face has been broken off. Next to Rāma is Hanumān, then Sugrīva and then the seven palm trees that have been pierced. If you look closely you can see the arrow passing through all seven.

18a Sugrīva fights with Vālin

The allies then approached Kiṣkindhā, Vālin’s capital, and Sugrīva roared a mighty challenging roar. Vālin’s consort, Tārā, had heard of the alliance and tried to persuade her husband to come to terms, but he, being angered, went out to fight Sugrīva.

On the left sit Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. Exactly who the royal person on the far left is, and the man with the beard next to him is also unknown. On the right Sugrīva and Vālin are locked in battle, with their legs intertwined, trying to upset each other.

18b Rāma kills Vālin

In the hikayats it is mentioned that a vine was tied around Vālin’s waist so that the two monkey brothers could be distinguished. Rāma then, seeing his ally Sugrīva fading, shot Vālin with his bow and killed him.

Lakṣmaṇa is seen holding a bow on the left, but passively, not taking part in the action. Next to him Rāma is portrayed in very dynamic form shooting an arrow at Vālin. Next to Rāma an attendant points out the result: Vālin, who is distinguished by the creepers round his waist, is mortally wounded by the arrow.

18c Sugrīva regains his Kingdom

After regaining sovereignty over the kingdom Sugrīva invited the brothers to spend the rainy season with him in Kiṣkindhā. Rāma explained however that his vows to his father forbade him to enter a city at this time, and that they would rather live in a cave nearby.

On the far left we see what is probably Tārā, Vālin’s queen, now married to Sugrīva, by right of victory. Next it is Sugrīva who sits upon the throne. Notice the halo as befits one of the main heroes of this tale. In front of him are the monkey-citizens of Kiṣkindhā. Sugrīva appears to be dispensing gifts, seen in money bags to the right of him, to his subjects.

19a The Council of War

At the end of the rainy season Rāma grew agitated wanting to find his lost love again, and feared Sugrīva might be lost to pleasure and would forget his duty. He therefore sent Lakṣmaṇa to Kiṣkindhā to remind him. Sugrīva listened to Lakṣmaṇa and to Hanumān and gathered all his armies together at the brothers’ hermitage.

There are two main scenes: on the left we see Hanumān, then Lakṣmaṇa with his bow, and Rāma who stands next to Sugrīva and points out the place to discuss their plans. On the following scene there are sat in front of a simple building. Hanumān is again on the left, and sits lower than the others. The far right is a jungle scene with trees and animals abounding.

19b Sugrīva sends out spies to find Sītā

Sugrīva agrees to send out spies to the four quarters in order to find out Sītā, and Rāma, regaining confidence in his ally, agrees. The monkeys then sent out and look far and wide in search of the missing princess, with Hanumān leading the search in the south. He eventually jumps over the seas to Laṅkā and seeks out Sītā in the capital, but is unable to find her.

Two scenes. On the left we have Sugrīva with Hanumān and other monkeys who will assist him in the search. The king is suppliant before Rāma, holding the bow, and Lakṣmaṇa. On the right are three ladies whose attention is to the left, and two other women whose attention is on the right where a monkey climbs over a house. This must be during Hanumān’s initial search of Laṅkā.

20 Hanumān meets with Sītā

After searching in many likely places Hanumān was on the point of despair, fearing Sītā may already have died. On the edge of the city Hanumān came upon the magical Aśoka grove and spied Sītā there. After witnessing her rebuff Rāvaṇa, he approached and told her that Rāma was on his way to rescue her. She gave him her tiara to take back to Rāma as proof of her life.

There are two scenes. On the far left we see two women standing. Sītā has her hand of the head of another lady, but who this is is not clear. One of the ladies is pointing out Hanumān who is in the trees. On the right Hanumān is meeting with Sītā and an attendant, presumably Trijaṭā, a maid and confident assigned to look after her. Curiously he is pointing back at another monkey. But again who that is, or what role he is playing, I do not know, as the accounts mention Hanumān was the sole monkey there.

21 Hanumān’s Tail is set on Fire

Hanumān, wishing to do more than was asked, destroyed the grove Sītā was being held captive in and, after killing some of the rākṣasas, allowed himself to be captured. Rāvaṇa ordered him set on fire, and they wrapped his tail in an oil-soaked cloth and set it alight. Hanumān then ran rampage through Laṅkā setting fire to the whole city.

Two scenes again. On the left we see four, or perhaps five, rākṣasas wrapping cloth round the monkey’s tail. One holds a vessel, which no doubt contains oil. On the right Hanumān is seen jumping over a building which is going up in flames. The rākṣasas, even though armed, are unable to stop him.

22 Hanumān meets with Rāma

Before leaving Laṅkā, Hanumān again went to the grove and met with Sītā to make sure she was safe. Hanumān then left the city and made his way back to the Vindhyas and Rāma, and reported the success of his search by showing him the tiara Sītā had given him.

On the left we see Hanumān showing the jewel to Rāma who sits in relaxed posture on a chair next to him. Behind him sit first Lakṣmaṇa, with the lotus, and then Sugrīva, the monkey-king, both with haloes. Behind them are other men and monkeys.

23 Rāma and the Nāginī

The party then proceeded on their way to Laṅkā. Reaching the shore Rāma was wroth, and wanted to use his mighty arrows to burn away the ocean so his armies could reach the other side. A nāginī (female sea serpent) rose from the waters and informed Rāma of an entrance to the underworld where amṛta (a drink giving immortality) was to be found. This follows some of the Malay versions of Rāma’s story, and is unknown to Vālmīki.

The figure on the left with the monkey is badly damaged and therefore hard to identify. Lakṣmaṇa is next to him, holding the lotus, and then Rāma sits in what looks like an awkward posture, holding his bow, but no arrow. From the waves the nāginī arises and tells Rāma how to protect his helpers. The figure here is clearly female, and therefore cannot be the god of the sea, as it has sometimes been identified.

24a Building the Land Bridge

The god of the seas suggested that they build a land bridge from one shore to the other, and Rāma agreed to this idea. He called upon one of the monkeys, who was born of Viśvakarmān, the divine architect, to lead the construction. They toiled for five days and piled up huge stones until a causeway was built.

On the left are the two brothers. Next to them is Sugrīva, and in front of him are a troop of monkeys, some of whom are throwing large stones into the ocean. The various creatures of the ocean look on, including a whale, a shark, a seahorse and a nāga. The ones at the front are holding the stones in their mouths. Whether this is to help or to hinder is not clear, but this detail was unknown to Vālmīki.

24b Rāma on Laṅkā’s Shore

This is the last of the reliefs found on the Śiva temple where the first part of the story is shown. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are seen centre stage, carrying their bows, with Sugrīva in front of them. Their armies have crossed over the bridge into Laṅkā and alighted on the shore and are proceeding to the mountain.

In Vālmīki, Rāma climbs on Hanumān’s back and Lakṣmaṇa on Sugrīva’s, but here we see nothing of that. The two brothers are seen carrying their bows in the middle. Sugrīva and probably Hanumān go ahead. Behind come the rest of the army. One of the monkeys is leading a mongoose on a lead! Snakes are seen on the far left.

Brahmā Temple

Rāma’s Story (Continuation)

The reliefs on this temple are thirty in number, but the balustrade being a different shape than the Śiva temple, there are no very wide reliefs here, and indeed the sculptors occasionally seemed to be pressed for space when trying to illustrate the story.

When Stutterheim wrote his work the reliefs had not been restored into the Brahmā temple, but were scattered so badly around the temples, it was not even known at the time which temple they belonged to. Stutterheim discussed some of the reliefs with his usual perspicuity, but not having order to guide him he was sometimes at a loss.

As will be seen the reliefs on this temple are in much worse condition than the ones on the Śiva temple, and it is amazing that archaeologists have managed to reconstruct the sequence of the reliefs on the balustrade on this temple.

01 Rāma holds Council

Having crossed over to Laṅkā, Rāma discusses strategy with his commanders. Vibhīṣaṇa, Rāvaṇa’s brother, being disgusted with the king and his unjust holding of Sītā, has meanwhile defected to Rāma’s camp, and tells him the positions the rākṣasas have taken up in Laṅkā to defend their city. Rāma sets out his own plan.

This is the first relief we see when we enter the Brahmā temple. I do not know how to account for all the figures seen. On the seat sits Rāma. One of the four men sat around him would be Lakṣmaṇa. I do not think we can see Vibhīṣaṇa here, as when he appears later, he is portrayed as a normal rākṣasa. Next to the five on the left is Viśvamitra, his face badly damaged. Next to him would be Sugrīva and his monkey-army.

02 Aṅgada goes to Rāvaṇa

Sugrīva seeing Rāvaṇa on the turrets of Laṅkā sprung up and attacked him. Neither one prevailed, though the bloodshed was great. When Sugrīva returned Rāma determined to send Aṅgada, Vālin’s son, as an envoy to give Rāvaṇa one last chance to return Sītā and avoid further bloodshed.

On the left we see a snake crawling out from a hole in the ground and a monkey stood above. I am unsure of the reference here, but it looks inauspicious. In the middle are two monkeys, one looking back at the previous incident, and the other looking to Aṅgada who is leaving the ranks to ask Rāvaṇa to do the right thing.

03 Cutting off Aṅgada’s Ear

Aṅgada entered Rāvaṇa’s palace and confronted him with Rāma’s proposal, which he rejected. Rāvaṇa then had Aṅgada seized, and cut off his ear before sending him back to Rāma’s lines. This episode is unknown to Vālmīki, where Aṅgada is seized but escapes unharmed.

On the right Rāvaṇa is depicted with multiple heads and arms. He is seated with one knee held in a strap on his barely shown throne. On the left a rākṣasa has hold of Aṅgada and is cutting his ear off, before he is sent back.

04 Mobilising for War

After Aṅgada’s mission was unsuccessful he returned to Rāma and reported all that had happened. Rāma grew even more determined to punish the rākṣasa king, and allocating leaders and monkey troops, sent them to various positions around Laṅkā.

The stone is quite weather-worn. We see five monkeys going to the battle, the one on the left carries a club, the one next to him a raised shield. Another appears to have a bow and cache of arrows. The one at the front also has a bow.

05 The Heroes go to War

Our heroes went out and fought in single combat the rākṣasas that stood to fight them, many of whom were killed in the fray. The fighting went on into the night, so fierce was the fighting.

This is a badly damaged relief and one of the characters is obscured. Reading from left to right it appears to be Hanumān, with his hand on a short sword; Lakṣmaṇa, carrying his bow; Sugrīva, also with a sword; the character who is missing the top half would then be Rāma; and on the right it looks like Viśvāmitra.

06 The Brothers are caught by Indrajit

Rāvaṇa’s son Indrajit, who had defeated Indra himself, had the power to make himself invisible. He climbed into the sky and rained down arrows upon the monkey troops below, who could not see him and were unable to fight back. He also shot his snake-arrows at the brothers and immobilised them with its coils. The brothers were later freed by Garuḍa, Lord Viṣṇu’s mount.

On the far left we see Garuḍa, who has come down from the sky. At his appearance the snake-bonds which encircle the brothers crawled away underground, and the brothers were able to recover their strength. There is a badly damaged character next to the brothers, it may be Vibhīṣaṇa or Sugrīva. On the right are rākṣasas, including Indrajit, pictured in the clouds.

07 Rāma and Rāvaṇa on the Battlefield

The battle continued with Rāvaṇa sending out some of his greatest generals to the fight, but one by one they all lost to the strength of the monkeys. Then he determined to enter the battle himself. Hanumān and Lakṣmaṇa both fought with him, but indecisively. Then Rāma stepped up and struck his enemy to the ground. But, seeing him tired from the battle, he did not kill him, but let him retreat to Laṅkā.

On the far left we see Rāma who is holding his bow aloft. In front of him stands Lakṣmaṇa, who faced the rākṣasa-king first. It is surprising we don’t see Hanumān, as he played a big part in the battle. We see one rākṣasa with a rock held high, about to crash it down on his opponents head; and another with a mace. On the right is the ten-headed Rāvaṇa, sitting atop his chariot.

08 Kumbhakarṇa is woken from Sleep

Rāvaṇa, realising the truth of the prophecies about his doom at the hand of a man, now called upon his allies to go and wake his brother Kumbhakarṇa, who lay in a deep sleep. The troops went, and tried everything to wake him, including yelling, blowing conches, and raining blows upon his chest. Eventually they brought an elephant whose weight brought him to his senses.

A company arrives at the cave where the giant Kumbhakarṇa sleeps. Some are on horseback, One tries prodding him with a stick. Another blows a conch into his ear, and on the right we see the elephant being brought in that will finally wake him.

09 Rāma and his Allies fight Kumbhakarṇa

Kumbhakarṇa went first to Laṅkā and sought audience with his brother, who encouraged him to take up the fight. He strode outside the city and began the fight, killing many thousands of the monkeys. Then Lakṣmaṇa fought against him, and finally Rāma came forth to test him.

On the far left is Viśvāmitra, Rāma’s faithful advisor, and next to him are Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, who both wield bows and shoot mighty arrows at their foe. On the right is Kumbhakarṇa, who is being assailed by the monkeys also. But still he holds his ground.

10 Friends grieve over Kumbhakarṇa

Eventually Rāma managed to overcome Kumbhakarṇa and killed him on the battlefield to the relief of all the allies on Rāma’s side. The rākṣasas, needless to say, grieved long and hard over Kumbhakarṇa’s fall, as it presaged their own.

Kumbhakarṇa lies stretched out and dead on the floor, while various rākṣasas gather round him. Some of them have flowers as offerings in their hands. The stone on the left is badly damaged and rather clumsily repaired with a modern stone.

11 Sītā and Trijaṭā

This relief has been identified by Kaelen as Sītā and Trijaṭā, her faithful helper. In no known version does anything between these two occur at this point in the narrative, although earlier, when it appeared Rāma was dead, it was Trijaṭā who managed to console Sītā and prove that her husband was not dead at all.

We see Sītā, identified by the halo, with one knee on the floor, and resting her elbow on the other knee. On the right is Trijaṭā, though she looks out of character, and is not portrayed as a rākṣasī, but is in royal attire, which makes me doubt the identification. Beneath her is a female servant, portrayed with curly hair as many servants are on these reliefs.

12 Rāvaṇa’s Concubines attend his Corpse

The war continued with Rāvaṇa’s sons going into battle and also being killed. Indrajit, through a stratagem, almost managed to kill the brothers, but they were revived by herbs brought from the Himalayas. Finally, in single combat, Rāma managed to overcome Rāvaṇa and killed him on the field of war.

Rāvaṇa lays prostrate on the battleground, and his concubines have come from Laṅkā to mourn over him. They stand, two adorning his feet, another holding his arm, another his chest, and one looks down on his ten faces. Among them is his chief queen Mandodarī who had warned him this would happen.

13 Viśvāmitra and his Disciples

Again this relief seems out of place. Kaelen identifies it as Viśvāmitra and his disciples, but the texts do not mention a fitting scene here. However, with the rākṣasas defeated it is now certain the sacrifices of the sages will not be interrupted again.

On the left we see two young disciples of the master standing, and two are sitting. The sage himself sits on a raised platform on the right, and is apparently teaching. Flowers are strewn around, and birds are seen sitting nearby.

14 Rāma is reunited with Sītā

After the defeat of Rāvaṇa, his brother Vibhīṣaṇa, who had helped Rāma, was crowned king of Laṅkā. Hanumān then sought out Sītā, and reported to her the outcome of the war. She asked to see her lord again, and a meeting was fixed. Sītā was bathed and bedecked and brought to Rāma.

This relief is quite badly damaged in parts. Unfortunately the face of Rāma has been vandalised. He sits with Sītā in the middle of the frame. On the left are seen what are probably rākṣasa males and females, maybe one is supposed to be Vibhīsaṇa, with a horse behind them. On the right we see an elaborate building, but again quite damaged.

15 Rāma and Sītā return to Ayodhya

After the reunion Rāma had doubts about Sītā’s chastity during her captivity. To prove her innocence, after making a vow, Sītā entered a fire, and the fire god protected her. The entourage, then gradually made their way back through India till they were near Ayodhya. Hanumān was sent ahead to announce their arrival and Bharata, who had held the throne in Rāma’s name, was overjoyed. The kingship was passed back to Rāma.

On the left we Lakṣmaṇa and Bharata, and behind them must be Vibhīṣaṇa, though he looks overly threatening. Rāma sits in the middle, with Sītā next to him. Two attendants with fly whisks stand behind them. The city is represented by the fine buildings. Birds sit peacefully upon the roofs.

16 City Folk gather round Rāma and Sītā

It is curious indeed that the Prambanan sculptors, or those who guided them, did not show the coronation of Rāma, which happened soon after, and which closes the story proper. In a continuation of the story the city folk again grow suspicious of the by now pregnant Sītā and rumours spread that she is unsuitable for her role, after having been held captive by Rāvaṇa.

On the left we see the city folk sitting round, and can easily imagine them gossiping about the queen. We see Rāma sitting in princely posture and acting like a guard to Sītā, who sits protected behind him. Again we see the buildings representing the city and the birds perched on the rafters.

17 Lakṣmaṇa takes Sītā to the Forest

Sītā had already requested Rāma that she be allowed to go to the wildernesses to pay her respects at the feet of the sages. Rāma, feeling shamed by the continuing gossip, asks Lakṣmaṇa to take her out in the chariot, and then to leave her outside the kingdom.

All around we see signs of the wilderness, with trees and birds. Sītā sits in a finely sculpted chariot, which is being drawn by two horses, and Lakṣmaṇa looks back at her. They appear to be in conversation, but it may just be Lakṣmaṇa reassuring Sītā she is safe with him as guard. We do not see the charioteer Sumantra, who Vālmīki says accompanied them.

18 Lakṣmaṇa tells Sītā he will leave her in the Forest

Lakṣmaṇa, having driven Sītā deep into the forest, then left the chariot behind and crossed the Ganges with Sītā and told his instructions to abandon her there. Sītā, ever concerned to obey her husband, allows herself to be abandoned, but asks Lakṣmaṇa to convey a message to Rāma, asserting her innocence once more.

A rather pregnant looking Sītā kneels on a raised plinth or rock and listens while Lakṣmaṇa, sitting at a lower level, explains the instructions he has received. Perhaps to emphasise how deep this is in the jungle we see many types of animals around, including snakes and frogs (bottom left), peacocks (left and right of Sītā), and a pair of mongoose (between the two).

19 Sītā in the Wilderness with Wild Animals

After being abandoned in the wilderness Sītā was left alone amongst the wild animals. The ṛṣis who heard her crying went to Vālmīki and reported that some divine lady was weeping in the woods, and asked what to do. The sage then prepared to go out and meet her with his disciples.

Sītā stands in the midst of two fierce looking lions, who, however, do not attack her. We also see a deer and a peacock. We cannot quite make out what she is doing with her hands because of the wear and tear. She appears, curiously, to be wearing an apron, and still has jewellery hanging round her neck. She must be weeping, but her expression hardly shows this.

20 Sītā meets with Vālmīki

The sage, having met with her on the bank of the Ganges, told her he knew who she was, and that she was innocent, and invited her to live in a nunnery near to his hermitage. There he could protect her, and soon he would help her raise her offspring.

The scene is set at Vālmīki’s hermitage, where he lived attending to the ordained sacrifices. We see a young man sitting on the roof, presumably a pupil of the master. Sītā, who is clearly still pregnant, is on all fours before the sage, and is listening to his instruction. We see various sacrificial accessories behind him.

21 Sītā gives birth in the Hermitage

One time Śatrughna was out seeking to destroy the rākṣasa Lavana, and happened upon Vālmīki’s hermitage, where he asked to stay the night. It was at this time that Sītā gave birth. In Vālmīki it is stated she gave birth to twin sons. Other versions have it she only gave birth to one, as we see here.

Here we only see one child in the arms of his mother, so I presume the sculptors knew a version different from Vālmīki. Sītā kneels on the left with the child in wrapping cloths in her hands. With her are two female attendants, one standing one sitting. Deer are seen behind them, and birds perch on the awnings of the nearby pavilion.

22 The Celebrations after the Birth

At the celebrations that followed the birth the first born was named Kuśa, by Vālmīki, as he was blessed with sacred Kuśa grass, which he had chanted mantras over. Other ceremonies were also performed to protect him from misfortune.

Vālmīki sits on the right and attends to the sacrificial offerings. Many regal looking young men gather round. On the left we see the women entering and carrying something, which by now is very worn down. It looks more like offerings than the child, though that is what one would have expected. Again various animals are placed around the scene reminding one that we are in the wilds.

23 Sītā and her Child gather Fruits

In other tellings of the story Sītā gave birth to just one child, then the following incident happened: Sītā went out to gather roots and fruits and left Kuśa with the sage. He, though, fell into meditation, and when Sītā returned she saw the child unprotected and decided to take him with her. Upon rising from his meditations, Vālmīki saw the child was gone, and, thinking him lost, decided to create a new child, exactly like the first. This is how she later had two children.

This must be the scene shown here. Sītā is out in the woods with a basket gathering forest produce, and she has her child with her, who is carrying mangoes. Vālmīki meanwhile appears to have arisen from his meditation and is in the midst of saying the mantras that will replicate the child.

24 Archers against Rākṣasas

Kaelen describes this scene as “Kuśa and Lava enthusiastically training themselves in sham fights.” I know of nowhere where such a scene is described, and it would not explain what we see, which is two royal archers and their attendants fighting against three rākṣasas, one of whom is being trampled underfoot.

The only story it could be in this point in the narrative is Śatrughna’s overcoming of Lavana, but that is described as one on one combat, and two heroes are not involved, so it very much appears to me as though this scene must be out of sequence, and should have been placed earlier during the war against the rākṣasas in Laṅkā. Notice that one of the rākṣasas has a trident in his coiffure, and is holding a large shield.

25 Heading to Ayodhya

Rāma decided to make a great sacrifice, the aśvamedha, in which a horse is freed for a year, before being killed in the ritual. During that year other sacrifices were to take place, and royalty, sages and people from far and wide came to partake in the festival.

Here we see eight young men on their way to the festival. Kaelen identifies two of them as Kuśa and Lava, which may be so, but they are not marked in any special way. Unlike the procession scenes at Borobudur, this one looks a little clumsy, seemingly with some standing with crossed legs, while others are walking on their way.

26 On the Path to Ayodhya

We see one rākṣasa on the left, accompanied by one royal. In front of them, and below, is a dwarf, and they are all encountering two seemingly poor people along the way, one of whom has a staff. Kaelen identifies the royal youth as one of the sons.

In Vālmīki this whole episode is described differently: Kuśa and Lava have accompanied their master to the festival, and while they are all there, Vālmīki gives them instructions to go to a place where Rāma will hear them, and sing the first twenty cantos (sargas) of the Rāmāyaṇa.

27 Rāma interviews Kuśa and Lava

When he heard the story told in melodious voices and with musical accompaniment, Rāma was of course intrigued, especially as the young artists seem to know his whole life story, and he asked them who they are and where they learned this story and offers them riches, which they turn down.

In Vālmīki the young men are described as ascetics, dressed in bark, but in these murals they are shown in royal garb, as befitting their actual status. Here they are sitting before Rāma, who questions them about the poem. The relief is quite worn, but it very much looks like Vālmīki himself is sitting behind them.

28 Vālmīki brings Sītā to Rāma

Rāma asks that Sītā makes an oath regarding her fidelity in front of a court of sages and royals, and sends a messenger to Vālmīki to ask his permission. On the following day Vālmīki brings Sītā to the court to make her asservation, and to confirm the sons are his. Sītā called on the earth goddess to accept her, and she descended back into the earth.

Sītā is described as being behind Vālmīki, who is offering her protection, and that is as we see here. It appears Vālmīki is speaking while Rāma, who sits, unexpectedly on a higher seat, listens. On the far right we see signs of his wealth in the form of treasure boxes.

29 Rāma appoints his Sons as his Successors

After many long and righteous years Rāma was visited by Death who informed him it was time to return to the gods in heaven. Rāma wanted one of his brothers to reign after him, but the sage Vaśiṣṭha urged him to appoint his sons to the throne. Kuśa was therefore given southern Kośāla, and Lava northern Kośāla, and they reigned together from Ayodhya.

On the left we see two people sitting under the trees, perhaps they are the sons, but they are wearing less than regal wear. The sage Vaśiṣṭha is sitting next to them holding his hands in añjali and advising Rāma on his next course of action. Behind we see a pavilion, and next to Rāma is a water pot.

30 Brahmins in the Court of Ayodhya

The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki ends with Rāma entering heaven (Svargaloka) again, along with his brothers and many of the other heroes from the story, and together with humans and animals from Ayodhya. They are greeted by the gods, who will rule over the worlds from there, and we might have expected to see something of the same here.

The last relief in the present series couldn’t be farther from the expected conclusion, and is quite irreconcilable with any known ending. Kaelen describes it as thus: “[A] festival is taking place at the court of Ayodhya, attended by brahmans and hermits.” I cannot understand how this is a fitting conclusion to the story myself.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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