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Hanging

  • Place of origin:

    Burma (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1890 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cotton velvet backed by printed cotton, appliqued with wool, silver threads and silver-gilt sequins, embroidered with coloured thread

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Miss Lucy M. Eyre

  • Museum number:

    IS.134-1964

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is a fine example of a Burmese pictorial textile hanging known as a kalaga. The owner would have used it either as a decorative wall hanging, a room partition, or as a screen hung outside the house on festive occasions. This one is made of black velvet with shaped gold and silver cloth and gold and silver threads and sequins. It illustrates episodes from the Indian epic the Ramayana, which chronicles the adventures of the god Rama. Stories of the battles between the forces of Rama and Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, were great favourites at the court of the Burmese Konbaung dynasty (1752-1885). The figures are richly dressed in sequined garments simulating the winged collars and aprons and the pinnacled and winged crowns of the Burmese royal dress as seen at the Konbaung court in Mandalay in about 1880.

Britain's control of Burma extended as the 19th century progressed, and the country was annexed in 1885. The extravagant style of kalagas appealed to Burmese and Europeans alike and their popularity soared in the mid 19th century.

Physical description

Kalaga or hanging of black cotton velvet cloth with a backing of red cotton print, and with an applique of shaped pieces of prepared coloured wool showing scenes from the Ramayana within a double border of birds and rosettes. Formed with coloured and gold and silver cloth, gold and silver threads and silver-gilt sequins. With details embroidered with coloured thread.

The central design, on a black ground, is divided roughly into an upper and lower level, showing figures in a forest setting richly dressed in sequined garments simulating the winged collars and aprons and the pinnacled and winged crowns of the Burmese royal dress as seen at the Mandalay Court ca. 1880.

The subject is taken from the Ramakien (Ramayana) and illustrates Rama's life in his forest exile together with his brother Laksmana and his wife Sita and their alliance with Monkey Kingdom. The separate incidents are treated in a non-linear episodic manner. The figure of Rama is depicted in blue (suggesting divinity). Laksmana is depicted in white and Sita in flesh colour. Sugriva is also depicted in white.

In the bottom left, is a hermit enticing Sita to step out of the magic circle drawn by Rama. To the right, Ravanna's sister has transformed herself into a deer to lure Rama and Lakshmana away. Rama shoots the beast and kills it.

In the lower left corner, the brothers return with part of the deer, to find Sita has been abducted. While the pair sleep, they are watched by Sugriva, a monkey King. On seeing the brothers asleep in each other's arms, he weeps at the thought of his cruel brother Bali (Vali) who has usurped his throne. His tears fall on the sleepers and they threaten to kill him, but on hearing his story agree to help him.

The action then moves to the bottom right hand corner where the three head off to confront Bali. In the top right hand corner, the brothers watch Bali and Sugriva in combat during which Bali is shot by Rama.

In an unrelated sequence, Bali kills the buffalo-demon Mayvi and flourishes the decapitated head to a hermit.

In the top left hand corner, Sita is abducted by Ravanna in his flying chariot. Jatayu, a monster bird, attempts to rescue Sita, but is wounded by Ravanna.

Double borders surround the central design. On the outer border a chain of framed flying birds. The inner border has a scrollwork of rosettes.

Black cotton velvet which has been re-enforced with a backing of red cotton print. The central field is made from six vertical panels (approx. 51 cm x 130 cm.) hand stitched together along the warp selvages to make one piece. To this is hand stitched the border (approx. W. 30.5 cm) formed from continuous lengths of cloth. The applique is executed in shaped pieces of prepared coloured woollen fabrics, silver and gold cloth, silver and gold thread and sequins. Supplementary details are embroidered with coloured thread. Height of the individual figures is approx. 26 cm.

Place of Origin

Burma (made)

Date

ca. 1890 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Cotton velvet backed by printed cotton, appliqued with wool, silver threads and silver-gilt sequins, embroidered with coloured thread

Dimensions

Length: 381.2 cm, Width: 177.9 cm, Length: 150 in, Width: 70 in

Object history note

Historical significance: The use of the great Indian epic The Ramayana to decorate this Burmese kalaga demonstrates the influence that India had on the culture of Burma.

Descriptive line

Kalaga or hanging of cotton velvet backed by printed cotton and appliqued with wool, Burma, ca. 1890

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Jutta Jain-Neubuaur "The Ramayana in Pahari Miniature Painting" Indian Department Library N. 69

Brian Thompson "The Story of Prince Rama" Indian Department Library N. 59

Production Note

Collected by the donor's family while they lived in Burma ca. late 19th century/ early 20th century.
Attribution note: Judging by the style, IS 8-1952 and IS 134-1964 originated from the same late 19th century workshop, and the designs are the handiwork of the same artist. In both, the sequence of events are badly mixed, with the action fragmented. The artist has simply picked scenes which he thinks will provide the more dramatic effects. Inf. Noel Singer, June 2002.

Materials

Wool; Silver; Silver; Gold; Silver; Thread

Techniques

Weaving; Applique; Stitching; Embroidery; Metal-working

Categories

Hinduism; Textiles; Wall coverings; Embroidery

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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