Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Epic Story Scrolls

Objective: In groups, students will discuss how artists communicate events and characters by observing and describing scenes in the scroll containing stories of Rama’s youth. Students will compare the context of this scroll’s use with those of scrolls illustrating other epics. Then they will create a biographical scroll from the perspective of a character in the Ramayana (The Life of Rama).

Common Core Standards:

RL 5.3: Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

RL 5.6: Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

RL6.3: Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

RL8.3: Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

Content Standards (California):

History/Social Science: 6.5.7: Discuss important aesthetic and intellectual traditions (e.g., Sanskrit literature, including the Bhagavad Gita; medicine; metallurgy; and mathematics, including Hindu-Arabic numerals and the zero).

Visual/Performing Arts: 5.1.3: Use their knowledge of all the elements of art to describe similarities and differences in works of art and in the environment; 5.2.7: Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art; 5.3.1: Describe how local and national art galleries and museums contribute to the conservation of art; 6.1.3: Describe how artists can show the same theme by using different media and styles; 6.3.3: Compare, in oral or written form, representative images or designs from at least two selected cultures; 8.3.2: Compare, contrast, and analyze styles of art from a variety of times and places in Western and non-Western cultures.


Video: The Abduction of Sita; Artwork: Story of Rama’s Youth; Theatrical headdress for the magical deer; Worksheet: The Life of Rama


  1. Distribute the worksheet, The Life of Rama (Ramayana).
  2. Ask students to observe and describe the scenes from the scroll depicting stories from Rama’s youth. Compare students’ ideas with the events actually shown.
  3. Discuss what choices the artist made to communicate each event that how public storytelling may have informed these choices.
  4. Explain that the Hindu story of the Ramayana (The Life of Rama) is one of the primary Hindu stories and one of the best-known Asian epics. The Ramayana traveled from South Asia throughout the continent through art, texts, and oral traditions. Storyteller-priests in South Asia narrated scenes from the scroll. This public storytelling gave those who could not read public access to the story and the opportunity to earn merit (favorable consideration in the next life).
  5. Show the Asian Art Museum storytelling video, The Abduction of Sita.
  6. Have students observe and describe the Theatrical headdress for the magical deer seen in the video. Explain that this was worn in dance-drama in Thailand for an elite audience. Compare and contrast the visual aides (scroll and headdress) and methods of telling (narrating and dance drama) of the Ramayana. Explain that the Asian Art Museum is conserving the scroll and have students debate whether or not museums should only display and conserve art for the elite.
  7. Ask students to choose a character from the Ramayana and to create a scroll illustrating key events in the story from their individual perspectives. Students will need to do research to find out what happened, or they may read the Story Summary. The scroll should contain only images, not text. Ask students to pay attention to gesture, symbols, and settings that may help convey the intended event.
  8. Ask students to write a narration of the scroll from the perspective of the character they chose. Ask them to include what the character might feel and think. Jigsaw: Divide students into groups of characters and have each present their dialogue to the small group.

Extension Activity:

Have students create an autobiographical story scroll and reflect on what they choose to include and what symbols they use to refer to time and place.