Lakshmana Cuts the Nose of the Demoness Surpanakha, from a Ramayana

Historical period(s)
19th century
Opaque watercolor on paper
Paithan style
H x W: 31.8 x 41.9 cm (12 1/2 x 16 1/2 in)
India, Maharashtra state
Credit Line
Gift of Harish K. Patel
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


battle, India, Lakshmana, Ramayana, Surpanakha
Provenance research underway.

The nineteenth-century chitrakathis or picture storytellers of Maharashtra in western India held paintings such as these aloft while they sang the great Indian epics to popular audiences.

The style, known as Paithan, is characterized by freely drawn calligraphic contours and tapestry-like patterns of skillfully integrated figures and landscape elements. Although their style is traditional, the pictures are painted on the inexpensive European paper extensively used in nineteenth-century Maharashtra.

In a popular episode from the epic Ramayana (Story of Rama) in the painting on the right, Rama's brother Lakshmana cuts off the nose of a demoness sexually attracted to the two brothers. The artist cleverly composed Surpanakha's twisted body within the lower left border; the expressive twist of her body creates an unusually empathetic portrayal of the demoness.

A lively painting from a regional retelling of the epic Mahabharata (Great tale of the Bharatas), on the left, illustrates the young hero Abhimanyu hunting tiger, boar, porcupine, and hare as his mother Subhadra watches. Freely splashed washes of red paint indicate the slain animals' blood.

Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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