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Jatayus, the heroic king of the vultures, approx. 400-500

Jatayus, the heroic king of the vultures, attempts to prevent Ravana from abducting Sita, from the Ramayana (Story of Rama)

Jatayus, the heroic king of the vultures, attempts to prevent Ravana from abducting Sita, from the Ramayana (Story of Rama), approx. 400–500. India; probably Uttar Pradesh state. Terra-cotta. Gift of the Connoisseurs’ Council, 1988.40.

The Hindu epic known as the Ramayana, the oldest sections of which may have been composed between 750 and 500 BCE, has inspired countless works of art in South and Southeast Asia. Although numerous versions exist, the epic is generally conceived as a tale of moral righteousness, relating the story of Rama, a prince who is a form of the Hindu god Vishnu.

In this panel, Rama's wife, Sita, has just been abducted by the demon Ravana. The vulture king, Jatayu, tries to save Sita but is wounded by Ravana, who slices off Jatayu's wings with his sword. This panel shares stylistic features with terra-cottas from a fifth-century brick temple at Bhitargaon in Uttar Pradesh state, and may once have adorned the tower of a similar structure.

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