Crossing: An interpretation of a scene from the Ramayana


I painted this mural for an amazing family I have known for almost eleven years. Though presented as a gift, I am considering it a commission, because I was invited to paint it.

The extended family easily number into the 300s, and the most amazing thing I’ve observed is that they don’t sweat the small stuff. I suspect it is because it took so much effort to bring everyone to the States.

In honoring this intention, I recalled the scene from the Ramayana where the monkeys build a bridge.

In painting this, I was lucky to have worked on the final paintwork at the home of one of the relatives. This meant I got quite a few questions from curious cousins.

1. Why this scene?
If you just look at this scene, what do you see? Monkeys working together to build a bridge as they cross over to another land. That’s how I see this family.

The Ramayana, more than the Mahabharata, dealt with the Southern part of India, where this family hails from. In the South, according to my uninformed observations, Hanuman tends to be more fervently worshipped than in other parts of India. This would explain why so many members of the family carry him as a locket around their necks.

2. Why the whole monkey families? Weren’t the monkeys going to war?
Yes, the monkeys were going to war. But life can be war-like. And we fight best with our families by our side.

3. Didn’t every stone used have the name of God written on it?
Someone pointed this out, and then afterwards I remembered, I was meditatively singing this song on faith I’ve been working on over and over as I painted.

4. And my own, why are these monkeys? Wasn’t Hanuman half man/half monkey?
Making the decision to draw the monkey without anthropomorphic features (oxymoron if ever there was one) kept me hesitating for two days. I went with the monkeys, because I believe that Hanuman, as an original deity, predated Ram and originated as an animist figure. He was anthropomorphized to be more acceptable as a figure who gets close to Ram.

5. Why do you not show India and Sri Lanka?
In Sri Lanka Ravana (the demonic figure in the Ramayana) is a revered king. This may just be an example of the pot calling the kettle black. As a woman who hails from a Hindu-inspired background, I wanted to allude to this by not drawing the lands. As America is suspect in India, so India is considered a backward place here. Lots of (self-hating) black pots and kettles.