Ramayana by Valmiki, now in French

New Delhi: Considered a sacred text of universal appeal and a masterpiece of Indian literature, the epic Ramayana has now been launched in French with illustrations of Indian miniatures from 16th to 19th century.

Author, editor and publisher Diane de Selliers took more than ten years to produce "Ramayana by Valmiki" a dazzling edition that contains the integral text of the epic – 48,000 verses divided into seven books – illustrated with over 660 miniature paintings.

The art work in the book has been sourced from various private and museum collections in India, Europe, United States, Qatar, Pakistan, Australia and Canada. "For me the Ramayana is a very complete literary text because it presents the philosophical point of view along with religious one. Also the human emotions are well described, the poetry is exquisite," Selliers told PTI.

During her first India trip in 1997 to Tamil Nadu and Kerala Selliers says she fell in love with the diversity of culture and rituals and the relevance of the epics to the people. "I wanted to delve into the root of the culture and Valmiki`s Ramayana was among the oldest available literature," says Selliers.

Several versions of the Ramayana that have been written over the centuries. Orally transmited, the most famous one has been attributed to Valmiki and was written in Sanskrit. At the end of the 16th century Mughal Emperor Akbar decided to have the epic translated into Persian and in 1588 had it illustrated with 166 miniatures creating the first Mughal manuscript.

Selliers says, "Today Akbar`s manuscript is available at the Mharaja Sawai Man Singh Musuem trust collection in Jaipur but it remains inaccessible to the public. We have reproduced about 40 of the miniatures." "Akbar`s second illustrated Ramayana manuscript that he made for his mother contains 56 miniatures that is scattered all over the world. We have managed to locate 54 of them," she adds.

Selliers` edition of the Ramayana by Valmiki – Ramayana de Valmiki, based on the translation done by Madeleine Biardeau in French language – is presented as a magnificent illustrated box set divided into seven volumes and covered with flocked fabric designed by Franz Ptisek using Mughal motifs from the text.

The book priced at Rs 58,000 is itself a work of art, printed as a limited edition numbered from 1 to 3,000.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe who launched the book here last evening says "The epic of Ramayana is one of the sources of founding values of Indian society. It is the wisdom that inspires success… I hope this book will bring the people of India and France closer."

Selliers is planning to publish an English version by Diwali 2012 and says she hopes to find sponsors. "The English edition will be using a whole new translation under the supervision of two scholars from Princeton University that was begun in 1975" she says.

"We travelled into remote places in India, Britain and US to find and photograph the Indian miniatures. The ones we found in museums were very well preserved but some of them are in bad shape," says Selliers.

"I felt it has become a part of my life. Each time I see these paintings, I am discovering something new. Each time I am reading a `shloka`, it has a new meaning for me. I was a wonderful experience working on Ramayana," says Sellier.