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  • List of Illustrations

Razmnama (Book of War): Illustrated pages, in opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper, from a Mughal manuscript in the John Frederick Lewis Collection of Oriental Miniatures, Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia

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Cover and Frontispiece [Detail]; Page 57

Karna Slays the Kaikeya Prince Vishoka

Although Karna is the half-brother of the Pandavas, he fought against them in the Great War. Here, Karna wears a crown befitting his kingly status and slays Prince Vishoka, an ally of the Pandavas. The two figures in turbans—one holding a bow, the other a raised sword—are probably Draupadi's brother Dhristadyumna and her son Shatanik. Both will later be killed dishonorably by Ashwatthama in the Night Raid.

Ascribed to Khemana (possibly Khemana Santara).

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Page IX

Hindu and Muslim Scholars Translate the Mahabharata from Sanskrit into Persian

Probably the first illustration in the 1589-1599 Razmnama, this is the only painting in the manuscript whose subject is contemporary to Emperor Akbar's reign. Here, Muslim scholars (in the upper half of the painting) and Hindu Brahmans (in the lower half) collaborate on translating the Mahabharata from Sanskrit into Persian. The learned Hindus hold a scroll, a traditional form of books in India, while the Muslims hold a codex, the standard book format for Islamic manuscripts. The partnership appears to be not quite equal: the Muslims are located in the privileged upper portion of the composition while their Hindu colleagues are seated below them.

Ascribed to Dhanu.

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The Gods and Demons Churn the Ocean of Milk

While the main narrative of the Mahabharata concerns the Great War, the epic contains many related stories. Some, like the episode of churning the Ocean of Milk, have variants in other Hindu sacred texts. Once, when the gods (devas) were in danger of being defeated by the demons (asuras) in the universe, Vishnu devised a plan to restore their strength by helping them acquire amrita, the nectar of immortality that was submerged in the Ocean of Milk.

Unable to churn the ocean by themselves, the gods tricked the demons into helping. Mount Mandara (Meru) was the churning tool; the giant serpent king, Vasuki, was the turning rope. As gods and demons pulled, their churning caused many beneficial things to rise.

Among the elements we can identify here are Ucchaishravas, the celestial seven-headed white steed; Airavata, the white elephant with double tusks; Surabhi, the wish-granting mother of all cows; Shankha, Vishnu's ritual conch; Chandra, the moon; and Parijata, the tree of paradise. One of the jars may contain the amrita and the other one a powerful poison.

Although illustrating a Hindu story, the painting features a central figure wearing a turban and jacket (jama) typical of Mughal court clothing of Akbar's time. The delicately shaded trees spotting the horizon were likely inspired by Flemish engravings, while the vertical mass of rock, colored flesh and pink, is a Persian painting convention.

Ascribed to Fattu.

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Page 1

The Fateful Game of Dice

Duryodhana, having lured Yudhishthira into a crooked dice-game, manages to win from him all of his possessions, his kingdom, his brothers, and ultimately Draupadi, the wife he shares in common with his brothers. Adding further insult, Duryodhana demands that Draupadi be dragged into the assembly hall as a spectacle before the entire court, including her husbands. Duryodhana's brother Dushasana attempts to disrobe Draupadi, but as each sari is stripped from her it is immediately replaced by another. Yudhishthira agrees to one last throw of the dice but again loses, and so the Pandavas must exile themselves from the kingdom for twelve years.

Ascribed to Sangha/Shankara(?).

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Page 9

Yudhishthira and Draupadi Give Away Their Possessions to Brahmans

Having lost everything in the crooked dice-game, Yudhishthira with his wife, Draupadi, gives away all of their possessions before beginning their twelve-year exile. The painting portrays elements of everyday life. Cattle are herded through a crowd teeming with activity, and figures gesture...


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pp. 132-149
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