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Asian art

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Heirloom textile (ma'a) with a scene from the 'Ramayana'

18th century-19th century


Unknown Artist


Many large cloths depicting the major battle from the Indian epic, the Ramayana, when Prince Rama defeats the demon king Ravana and his army from the realm of Lanka, survive from Indonesia, in particular from Sulawesi and Bali. The Toraja people of Central Sulawesi kept such textiles stored in ceramic jars as sacred heirloom pieces that they termed "ma'a".

Most of these cloths follow the same composition as seen here: Rama and the multi-headed, multi-armed Ravana take centre stage. Behind Rama, preparing his bow, is his lifelong companion Laksmana and the monkey king, Hanuman, with his army of monkeys. Ravana is supported by ogres and small demons. The battle is in full swing, arrows flying everywhere, heads being cut off, figures wrestling, mutilated bodies and severed limbs littering the ground. The style of drawing and clothes indicate south Indian temple hangings as the source of inspiration.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, 2006


Place where the work was made

Coromandel Coast India


18th century-19th century

Media category


Materials used

natural dyes painted on cotton


93.0 x 462.0 cm

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Dr John Yu 1998


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Jackie Menzies, Arts of Asia, 'New Dimensions', pg. 54-63, Hong Kong, Nov 2003-Dec 2003, 56-57 (colour illus.). no.5

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2003, 340-341 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on page 341 is a detail of this work.

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, 'Benefaction', pp. 16-17, Sydney, May 2002, 16-17 (colour illus.).