Educational charts, in all their brilliantly coloured vibrancy, are an established part of the Indian schooling system, sold everywhere, from bookshops to pavements. They cover every imaginable subject, from maths and language to ‘good’ behavior and moral/religious instruction. In a largely non-literate society, the visual potency of these charts remains an effective communicator. Organised into simple tabular formats with minimal verbal clues, they allow the reader to layer the images with their own interpretations.
The chart presented here, simply titled Ramayana, is a wonderfully un-selfconscious retelling of some of the main events from the epic. It begins with an episode from Dasharatha’s own life, the killing of the young ascetic, Sravana, on the banks of the Sarayu river. It becomes, in many ways, a cautionary tale about arrogance in one’s abilities and carelessness with one’s skills. Sita’s abduction and subsequent rescue make for good story telling and the uncomfortable agnipariksha at the end of the war is deliberately left out.
Recalling a film set from the 70s, with the bright pink curtains heavily scalloped and the thrones of gold, the body language and expressions assigned to the characters indicate to the reader whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, godly or plebian. Rama is always in the foreground, blue-tinged and godly, Lakshmana always smaller and a step behind. Sita follows the visual tropes of the dutiful wife, often depicted with one knee bent submissively.
This image has been taken from An Ideal Boy: Charts of India (copyright Tara Books, 2001) www.tarabooks.com