Learning about the various Bharatanatyam hand gestures, I saw a combination that represented Rama, with the left hand closed in a fist but with the thumb extended upwards and the right hand folded as if holding an arrow.
I was inspired to draw ‘Rama in Exile’ as the character of Rama himself performing the bharatanatyam dance, depicting the hand/body gestures of himself. I added a bow, arrow and quiver to make it a little more descriptive. Since this is a time of Rama’s life when he’s not in the palace and he’s forced to live as a hermit in a forest, I’ve always found it hard to believe that he’d be neat and cleanly shaved. Hence I gave him matted hair and a beard to indicate that he has isolated himself from civilization and is living amidst the ascetics and wild animals.
In this drawing he’s not shooting at anything in particular, but perhaps I’ll add something in, like the hunt for the golden deer or watching over the monkey kings Vaali and Sugreeva fighting for the throne of Kishkintha.
During this sketch, I realized that I was drawing more characters from the Dashavatar (or the ten Avatars of Vishnu), I added the discus and conch shell over his shoulders to signify that it’s an Avatar or part of a potential series. This also made me think about Rama’s status within the epic of the Ramayana itself. Some parts indicate that everyone knew about his avatar status, such as when Vishwamitra takes him around to commit divine deeds such as the slaying of the Rakshasas that destroy hermitages or the liberation of Ahalya from her stone prison or the breaking of Shiva’s bow to marry Sita or Hanuman’s unconditional, undying devotion and love. Some parts indicate that Rama knew that he was an avatar such as when he invokes Varuna to cross the ocean and everyone is surprised to see him, or when he agrees to be exiled to the forest foreseeing a divine plan but everyone around him is deeply troubled by this decision. Some parts indicate that nobody knew about Rama’s avatar status, including Rama himself, because he feels pain, anguish and misery at Sita’s abduction and wanders the forest aimlessly while searching for her.
Thinking about Rama’s status in the epic also makes us think about what we can learn from him. There is little we can learn from Rama the God, because Gods can do unbelievable things that no man can do and their story is more like a fantasy epic. There is much to learn from Rama the Man, because it shows us that even in the worst of circumstances, if one is clear about what one wants from life, then all problems can be conquered or outlasted. Lastly, it is very difficult to learn from Rama the Enlightened Man, because he seems to make choices that no normal man would ever dare to make and he always thinks about the good of the Realm, the family and legacy above his own personal good.