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The great Indian epic, the Ramayana , has captivated the imaginations of children and adults for over two thousand years. In the story, the Hindu god Vishnu must take human form on earth as Rama, a prince from the kingdom of Ayodhya, in order to defeat the ten-headed demon Ravana. On his many adventures Rama is accompanied by his brother, Lakshmana , and his devoted wife, Sita , and aided by his devoted friend and helpmate Hanuman , the monkey god. Though it is an exciting story in which a handsome hero, who has been denied his rightful place as king, embarks on a quest to vanquish a villain who has imprisoned his beloved wife, the Ramanyana is much more than just an adventure story. The Ramayana embodies many of the ideals of Hindu culture — Rama, the ideal king; Sita, the ideal wife; the relationship between Rama and Lakshmana, ideal brotherhood; and Hanuman, the ideal Hindu devotee. For centuries, the epic has been used to explore and to teach Hindu conceptions of morality and exemplary human behavior.

From as early as the 10th century, painted versions of the story were created, first on palm leaves and later on paper. These paintings were not framed and hung on the wall, but were kept in albums and brought out at small gatherings where the stories and their teachings, as well as the beauty and the remarkable detail of the paintings, could be discussed and enjoyed.

Select any of the paintings here from the Carlos Museum’s collection to learn more.

Indian miniature paintings, which were created by artists employed by royalty and the very wealthy, are just one way that the stories of the Ramayana were shared. The visual power of these stories has always contributed to their popularity across economic and social classes. In some parts of India, traditional storytellers held up scroll paintings that illustrated the tales as they recited them. In northwest India, the folding doors of storytelling boxes depicted episodes from the Ramayana and hid the images of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita until they were revealed by opening the interior doors of the box at the end of the recitation.

In modern times, the stories have been brought to life in movies, television shows, and most popular of all, comic books! Click here or on the sidebar to explore the Ramayana in comic books.


Beginning on the right side of the painting and moving left, we see Dasaratha’s charioteer telling Rama that his father, King Dasaratha , wants to see him.

In the center, the charioteer takes Rama to his father.

King Dasaratha tells Rama that he, among Dasartha’s four sons, will be king. Rama is easily identified by his blue skin, which reminds viewers that he is an avatar of the god Vishnu, who is also depicted with blue skin, and thus, divine.


When she hears that King Dasaratha has decided to make Rama his successor, one of the king’s wives, Kaikeya , is greatly disappointed that her son and Rama’s half brother, Bharata , will not be king. She reminds her husband that before they married he promised her two unspecified favors, and that she would now like to claim them. She asks that her son be made king and that Rama be banished from the kingdom for fourteen years. The king is heartbroken but must fulfill his promise.

This painting depicts a scene from Rama’s fourteen-year exile. In solidarity, his brother Lakshmana and his wife, Sita, have accompanied him. The trio takes up residence in the Dandaka forest, depicted here. While in exile, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. In this scene, which takes place during the search for Sita, Lakshmana tenderly removes a thorn from his brother’s foot.

Rama steadies himself, his hand resting on Hanuman’s shoulder. Hanuman, the monkey god, meets Rama during his exile and becomes his most devoted follower and messenger. It is he who finally discovers Sita, held captive in one of Ravana’s palace gardens in Lanka.


Blue-skinned Rama, dressed in gold and holding his bow, and Sita, his wife, are seated on a throne in Ayodhya after their return.

Rama’s three brothers, Shatrugna, Lakshmana, and Bharata, stand behind him.

Hanuman, king of the monkey army and Rama’s ardent devotee, stands before him.

Also pictured are Vibishana , brother of the defeated Ravana, dressed in green; Jambavan , leader of the bear army; Sugriva , leader of the monkey army; and forest-dwelling holy men.

Ramayana Today

Many American comic books feature superheroes who share similar essential characteristics. They may possess extraordinary powers, a secret identity, adherence to a strong moral code, particular identifying characteristics such as weapons or costumes, an origin story, and, of course, they have enemies. In India’s Immortal Comic Books, scholar Karline McClain points out that Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, embodies all the aspects of a traditional American superhero: Rama’s origins are divine; he is an incarnation of Vishnu, but his identity as such remains hidden. His blue skin and his bow are identifying characteristics. He wields his bow and arrow with extraordinary prowess against his enemies, especially Ravana. He demonstrates his strong moral code when he willingly goes into exile for fourteen years to honor the vow his father had made.

In 1967, a young executive for The Times of India named Anant Pai left his job at the newspaper to start a comic book company called Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), which means “immortal picture stories” in Hindi Though inspired by the American comic books that were available in India at the time, the comic books produced by ACK also draw upon the same long tradition of visual culture that saw the creation of Indian miniature paintings. Uncle Pai, as Anant Pai was affectionately known, wanted to celebrate the great figures of Indian literature and religion, such as Rama, Krishna, and Shiva. He retold classical works of Indian literature such as the Ramayana in comic book style, with sequential frames with limited narrative text and dialogue balloons.

ACK has sold over ninety million comic books, demonstrating their enormous popularity in India. But to many Indians, they are more than just entertainment. For generations of Indian children, they have been the primary way in which they learned the great foundational stories of Indian culture.

And they, in turn, have inspired other comic book artists. In 2006, Virgin Comics (now Liquid Comics) published Ramayan 3392 AD, a reimagining of the Ramayana set far into the future.

Here, in comic book form, is the image of Rama’s coronation that we saw in the image from the Carlos Museum. Can you identify Rama, Sita, and Hanuman, who were all pictured in the Carlos Museum’s miniature painting?

Site Credits

Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University
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