This folio illustrates a story from the Uttara Kanda, the final book of the Ramayana. After his coronation in the city of Ayodhya, Rama begins the kingly ritual of the horse sacrifice, the ashvamedha. For a period of one year, a horse, accompanied by an army led by Rama’s brother Shatrughna, travels the vast lands of the subcontinent marking the territory of Rama’s kingdom, after which the horse will be sacrificed.
During the journey, the horse comes upon the hermitage of the great sage Valmiki, where, unbeknownst to Rama or his army, his wife Sita and their twins, Lava and Kusha, have been residing during their exile. As the horse wanders into the hermitage, Lava and Kusha capture it, along with the rest of Shatrughna’s army. In response, Rama sends army after army led by his remaining brothers to battle, not knowing that he is actually battling his only sons. After Lava and Kusha defeat the army after army, Rama himself goes into battle against his sons and is defeated as well.
This folio depicts several scenes from this battle. Moving clockwise from top left, Sita embraces her two sons, Valmiki instructs the twins at his hermitage, and Lava returns the captured Hanuman, Rama’s most ardent devotee, and Jambavan to the battlefield. The center image shows culmination of the battle with Rama and his armies; Rama (labeled as Shri Ramaji), all his brothers, Bharata, Shatrughna, and Lakshmana, as well as his closest companions, Sugriva, and Vibhishana have all been killed.
This particular version of the battle between Lava, Kusha, and their father, has been told in several versions of the Ramayana, the earliest of which is the Jaimini Bharata, a retelling of portions of another great Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. Contemporary folk versions of the Uttara Kanda are still performed in modern-day Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, and West Bengal.