The daughter of Janaka and wife of Sri Rama, Devi Sita is one of the most popular and influential characters of the epic Ramayana, whose persona embodies the virtues of an ideal daughter, wife, and mother making her the perfect match for “Purushottama” (the greatest- uttama, man-Purusha) Sri Rama. The sway of Devi Sita’s universal glory and the epic that tells her story, Ramayana is such that it crossed the ocean to reach Thailand. This country welcomed the richness and devotion of Ramayana with open arms. The tale of Sri Rama, Sita, and Hanuman became popular in Thailand through local retellings of the Ramayana in oral and artistic traditions. One of the arts that familiarized Thailand with the characters of the epic is the Thai dance-drama surrounding the story of Rama and Sita. In this splendid Sita Tanjore painting covered in glistening gold leaf, the form of Devi Sita borrows from the attire of Thai performers who act as Sita, known as Siida in the Thai version of Ramayana- the “Ramakien” (glory of Sri Rama).
Framed within a lacquered wood frame, this Tanjore painting of Devi Sita in the Thai idiom symbolizes India’s quality of embracing innovations and incorporating them within the traditions. Visualized as a fair, youthful woman, Devi Sita in this Tanjore painting is shown in a most dynamic posture, appearing to be hovering in the skies, with her hand gestures and swaying fineries reminding us of the movements of the Thai Ramayana ballet. She wears an imposing golden crown, exquisite necklace, armbands, bracelets, breast ornaments, and ankle bands. Goddess Sita’s dhoti (lower body garment) is embellished with pure 24 karat gold leaf in its entirety, which sits tastefully over her form to reveal the fine patterns drawn underneath. Golden vegetal embellishments appear to be emerging from the body of the goddess in this Thai Sita Tanjore painting, bringing a graceful magnificence to her image. Devi Sita’s eyes are large and their finesse complements the beauty of the rest of her face. The Bindi (mark on forehead) and nose ornament worn by this Thai form of Devi Sita are quintessentially South Indian elements, the signature of the Tanjore artists. Devi’s right hand is bent unnaturally, to convey the mastered lyricism in the hand movements of Thai dancers, while in her left hand she holds a ring, an object which one can see only by closer interaction with the painting. However small, this golden ring or Mudrika is the key to understanding the euphoric posture of the subject of this Devi Sita Tanjore painting.
A well-known episode from the Ramayana narrates to us the meeting of goddess Sita with her beloved Sri Rama’s messenger, Sri Hanuman, who brought with him as a mark of identification the jewel-studded ring of Sri Rama. Upon receiving the ring of his husband from Hanuman, the heart of Maa Sita, then surrounded by the guards of Ravana, in a foreign land, was elated to know that Rama was near. Through skillful use of the theme of Thai dance drama, an art form that is vivacious and expressive, and the techniques of Tanjore painting, which is known for a dramatic and glorious depiction of its subjects, the artist has succeeded in conveying to us the boundless bliss of Devi Sita. The auspicious moment is brought to life against a lovely red background and the presence of celestial beings who shower flowers on a delighted Devi Sita.
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