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Ragamala Paintings - A Garland of Raga Art

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 4:40 AM
Ragamala Paintings are a series of illustrative paintings from medieval India based on Ragamala or the 'Garland of Ragas'. The concept of illustrating musical modes in pictorial form as Ragamala paintings is a unique expression of Indian writers and artists. A Ragamala painting is the ultimate example of the correlation among the arts. ‘Ragamala' literally means ‘A Garland of Melodies'. The rich tradition of Indian Classical music is structured on the foundation of ragas.

A raga is a melodic mode, which literally means ‘to color', and is also defined as a permutation and combination of notes or frequencies illustrated by melodic movements. It is believed that these melodies are capable of producing a pleasant sensation, mood or an emotion in the listener. Some Indians ragas are prescribed a time of day or a season. There are six principal ragas - Bhairava, Dipika, Sri, Malkaunsa, Megha and Hindola and these are meant to be sung during the six seasons of the year; summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter and spring. 

Ragamala paintings are visual interpretations of Indian musical modes previously envisioned in divine or human form by musicians and poets. They showed most frequently romantic or devotional situations in a somewhat stereotyped and aristocratic setting. These paintings were created in albums containing most often thirty six or forty two folios, organized in a system of families. Each family is headed by a male (Raga) and contains five or six females (Raginis), sometimes also several Ragaputras (Sons), even Ragaputris (daughters) and wives of sons.
All known surviving examples of this art were painted in the 16th through 19th centuries in Rajasthan, in central India, in the Deccan, in the Ganges-Jamuna plains or in the Pahari region. Only a very small number of paintings are actually dated and signed. Most can be placed with a high degree of certainty into particularly periods and localities, the origins of others are more disputed, and finally a large number yield very few reliable clues to their province. 

Many paintings are inscribed with their title or even a poem, which renders a verbal interpretation of the theme more or less closely related to the painted version. Ragamala paintings thus appear to stand at a crossroad of Indian music, poetry and miniature painting. It labels its individual paintings with the names of musical modes.Both the musical and the poetic beginnings of Ragamalas are many centuries older than the painted versions. 

The introduction of paper and a blooming of miniature painting in many parts of India among Jains, Hindus and Muslim alike brought with it the first illustrations of Ragamala poems or prayers formulas, probably between 1450 and 1550. A growing demand for copies of them, in the prevailing local fashion, developed during the next three years. The painters of Ragamalas, like their patrons, were associated with this subject only on the periphery of their existence. Most of them were skilled craftsmen working more or less expertly in many subjects, but they lacked the learned quality of many of their patrons and poets, whose verse they illustrated in accordance with previous paintings of the subject. Their expertise lay entirely in the field of paintings, while their literary and musical knowledge was at best perfunctory. 

Of the hundreds or even thousands of ragas known in music, only a fraction was used in Ragamala paintings. The most frequently used were in one or several iconographies throughout the centuries in which this art form was practiced. Some these iconographies underwent regional or periodical changes, especially if the literary source material for them was scarce or unknown. 

The Ragamala paintings also depicted the themes like the hero and heroine in various situations such as dancing, singing, the heroine waiting for her lover and later angry with him. These paintings mainly sketch the `Rasa` or flavour of a particular raga. The Ragamala artists of the Deccani schools were mainly guided by the Persian or Urdu text versions available during that period. The earliest Ragamala paintings are from the Deccan. They were probably painted for Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur, who was an authority on painting and a fine artist and illuminator himself .

Sangeeta Ratnakara is an important 12th century CE treatise on the classification of Indian Ragas, which for the first time mentions the presiding deity of each raga. From the 14th century onwards, they were described in short verses in Sanskrit, for Dhyana, 'contemplation', and later depicted in a series of paintings, called the Ragamala paintings. Some of the best available works of Ragamala are from the 16th and 17th centuries, when the form flourished under royal patronage.All paintings are courtesy of Art of Legend India.

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