Return to Previous Page

Kusha Kills Lakshmana
Page from a dispersed manuscript of the Razmnama (Book of War)

Ascribed to Fazl, Indian, active early 17th century

Made in Deccan Region, India, Asia
Probably made in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, India, Asia


Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper

Image: 14 3/8 × 8 1/4 inches (36.5 × 21 cm) Sheet: 15 1/8 × 8 7/8 inches (38.4 × 22.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

Social Tags [?]

There are currently no user tags associated with this object.

[Add Your Own Tags]

The Razmnama (Book of Wars) is Emperor Akbar's Persian translation of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The patron of this edition of the Razmnama was the powerful 'Abd al-Rahim, the commander-in-chief of the imperial Mughal army who himself sponsored a notable painting workshop. 'Abd al-Rahim's manuscript follows the Persian format of integrating text blocks into the illustration. This page depicts a subplot featuring characters from another Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Kusha, one of Rama's forsaken twin sons, is shown just after he has shot a magical arrow through his uncle Lakshmana, Rama's brother, who falls from his chariot as he dies.

Additional information:
  • PublicationIntimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection

    A second variety of subimperial Mughal painting (see also Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-15) is manifested in this illustration from the Razmnama, or “Book of Wars,” the name given to the Persian version of the Indian epic of the Mahabharata. In this case, however, we have far more conclusive evidence about the patron who commissioned this manuscript and the group of artists who produced it.

    The Razmnama manuscript was commissioned by ‘Abd al-Rahim, the highest-ranking noble at the Mughal court.1 The source of his prestige was his title of khankhanan, or commander-in-chief of the imperial army, a position he attained in 1584 after demonstrating his mettle on the field of battle. But ‘Abd al-Rahim had many talents outside the military sphere. He spoke a number of languages, wrote poetry in Hindi, translated the emperor Babur’s memoirs from Turki to Persian, and served for a time as tutor to Salim, the future emperor Jahangir. His exceptional cultivation and legendary generosity allowed him to attract a large coterie of eminent authors, calligraphers, and painters to his service. These artists worked exclusively for ‘Abd al-Rahim, though at least seven entered his employ by way of the imperial painting workshop.

    ‘Abd al-Rahim commissioned and collected many of the religious and literary texts standard in Persianate culture, but he also showed a profound interest in Hindu culture. In this, he followed the lead of Akbar, who had had a number of Hindu texts, including the Ramayana and Mahabharata, translated into Persian in the 1580s. Two dated paintings in ‘Abd al-Rahim’s copy of the Razmnama fix the years of this project as 1616–17, some thirty years after the imperial version of the manuscript had been translated and illustrated. Although ‘Abd al-Rahim’s manuscript has long been dispersed, the number of illustrations appears to have been great, perhaps even approximating the 168 of the imperial Razmnama, a manuscript preserved in Jaipur.

    The format of the paintings is unusual for the time, with large paintings typically wrapped around substantial blocks of text. This feature had a detrimental effect on the manuscript in the twentieth century, for dealers who apparently had little use for the presence of a foreign script in the midst of colorful paintings excised the areas filled with writing on many pages and replaced them with snippets of painting cut from still other pages. This page has escaped that unfortunate fate, and thus affords a clear picture of the original appearance of the manuscript.

    The text is written in an undistinguished Naskhi, a functional script rarely used in fine literary manuscripts. One measure of the indifference shown to the form of the text is a marginal correction to the left of the end of the thirteenth line. Finding himself with too little space to complete the word (“happiness”) there, the scribe simply wrote the final syllable in the margin and drew a light protective circle around it. The painter was untroubled by this minor intrusion, and completed the design of the running blue horse with the writing perched somewhat incongruously on its hindquarters. Such corrections are common in this manuscript, whose thin paper probably would not have withstood the eradication of the word from the surface.

    This scene features not the major protagonists of the epic struggle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas but Kusha and Lava, the forsaken twin sons of Rama, who are very peripheral to the central narrative of Razmnama. Because the Persian text follows an apocryphal version of the Ashvamedhikaparva, the fourteenth of the eighteen books of the massive Mahabharata text, these youthful heroes acquire a prominence in Mughal illustrated copies of the epic that they do not enjoy in other recensions of the text. Kusha, whose dark complexion reflects his divine lineage, has already dispatched Kalajita, Lakshmana’s general, by decapitating him with a magic arrow. Now he proceeds to move against an enraged chariot-borne Lakshmana with five more arrows on which Valmiki had cast a spell. The last two lines of text above the painting specify his action exactly: “Kusha set those five arrows to his bow and struck Lakshmana with them in the chest in such a way that Lakshmana sank like the sun in the sky, became unconscious, and fell to the ground.”

    This painting matches the corresponding work in the Jaipur Razmnama in both narrative moment and basic composition, a pattern that generally characterizes the relationship between the two illustrated manuscripts.2 Yet the two paintings differ significantly in detail. Here the artist has reversed the orientation of the chariot so that the arrow-riddled Lakshmana tumbles toward Kusha. This change was probably motivated by a desire to avoid the visually complicated form of a figure overlaid on a chariot and its team, but it has the benefit of forcing the defeated king to strike a pose of prostration before his youthful conqueror. The ranks of Lakshmana’s army have shrunk to a handful of dead or terrified soldiers, thereby setting off individual figures against patches of open space. Likewise, the landscape features the same kinds of outcrops, trees, and buildings as does its imperial counterpart, but here they are so radically schematized into bold, eruptive forms that they acquire an expressive capacity rarely seen in more naturalistically rendered Mughal environments.

    The painting is signed prominently on the chariot by Fazl, the most original of the twenty-one artists in ‘Abd al-Rahim’s atelier. Fazl sometimes falters in his draftsmanship, as he does here in the cityscape above, but he rarely fails to produce a compelling design. What his figures lack in physical and emotional nuance, they more than gain in fiercely determined movements and intense facial expressions. John Seyller, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 64-65.

    1. John Seyller. Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: The Freer Ramayana and Other Illustrated Manuscripts of ‘Abd al-Rahïm. Supplement 42 of Artibus Asiae. Zurich: Museum Rietberg in association with the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1999, pp. 252–57.
    2. The Jaipur painting is no. 1805; see Thomas H. Hendley, Memorials of the Jeypore Exhibition, 1883 (London: W. Griggs, 1884), vol. 4, plate 106. For a discussion of the relationship of these two manuscripts and a third copy of the same text, see John Seyller. “Model and Copy: The Illustrations of Three Razmnama Manuscripts.” Archives of Asian Art, vol. 38 (1985), pp. 37–66., pp. 37–66.

Return to Previous Page