The Paintings of Sita Ram

BY: SUN STAFF - 11.5 2023

The Madan Mohan Temple at Brindaban
Painting by Seeta Ram, c. 1815
British Library Collection


A serial presentation of the extraordinary collection of Sita Ram's early 1800's watercolors depicting Indian temples and landscapes.

During the span of years between 1814 and 1823 A.D. a magnificent body of work was painted by the Bengali artist, Sita Ram. The artist, also referred to as Seeta Ram, was famously engaged by the Englishman Lord Moira, who later became the Marquess of Hastings. Sita Ram was brought on to accompany Hastings on his journeys around North India, illustrating the scenes in sketches and watercolor paintings.

The Marquess of Hastings, who served as Governor-General of Bengal from around 1813 to 1823, traveled out on several great expeditions. He was accompanied by significant parties, including family members, associates and servants. Their expeditions took them from Calcutta to Bombay, and northwards to the Himalayan foothills.

Detail from Mughal Painting of Hastings, c. 1782

Sita Ram painted the scenes of Hastings' journeys in expansive scale and in fine detail. The first journey spanned 1814-15, during which the artist created ten albums of illustrative paintings. Another tour took place in 1817, and a third covered the period 1820-21. Sita Ram's landscapes, architectural drawings, natural history and temple paintings filled many scrapbooks. The main collection comprised eight albums of large format watercolors. Altogether, Sita Ram produced 230 large watercolours, which were preserved in ten albums. There were an additional 25 albums of drawings.

In March 1995 the British Library in London acquired the collection of paintings, buying them from the Hastings family for Euro 400,000, with financial assistance from the National Art Collections Fund. (Pictured here, Sita Ram sketching a view of the Ganges.)

Lady Hastings joined her husband for the 1814-15 expedition to Upper India. In the painting below, titled in the folio 'Views by Seeta Ram from Mohumdy to Gheen, Vol. V' we see Lord and Lady Hastings on elephants, with armed guards, horses and camels, passing in front of the Himalayas near Kashipur. Below the title is the inscription: 'View of the Himalaya Mountains after passing Cossipore'.

Lord and Lady Hastings on elephants, passing in front of the Himalayas near Kashipur
Painting by Seeta Ram, c. 1814
British Library Collection

Among the numerous paintings Sita Rama produced to memorialize the expedition parties of Lord Hastings is the painting below of the Hastings flotilla. This scene depicts the party traveling by boat on the Ganges River at Buxar. This watercolor is included in the folio entitled 'Views by Seeta Ram from Patna to Benares, Vol. II'.

'Lord Hastings' Flotilla on the River, with many Pinnace Budgerows'
British Library Collection, c. 1814


Over the course of this series we will feature more than 50 beautiful paintings by Sita Rama, in various categories of subject matter. Most wonderful are the Vrindavan and Matura temple scenes and landscapes. They're joined by many excellent paintings of Vaisnava temples across North India. There are also many landscapes, agricultural scenes, holy ghats, etc. to be enjoyed. Along with painting titles, many have additional inscriptions, and all come with at least a brief commentary by the British Library curators.

The scene at the top of the page, of the Madan Mohan Temple in Vrindavan-dhama was painted by Sita Rama during the 1814-15 expedition. The folio covers the journey from Calcutta to Delhi. The scene is set in the groves of Vrindavan, on the banks of the Yamuna. The British Library staff note that the octagonal tower of this 16th Century temple is more than 20 metres high, and is similar to the tower of the nearby Jagat Kishore temple.

Sita Ram's title for the painting is 'Govind Takoor', and he has included the inscription: 'Mundle of Govind Takoor at Bndrabund'.