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Musical Modes Ragamala Paintings

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:46 AM

Ragamala Musical Modes Paintings
Many of the paintings in the Green collection illustrate the typically Indian literary theme of personified and poeticized musical melodies (ragas). Grouped in sets known as a Ragamala (Garland of melodies), India's musical modes are a polymorphic form of artistic creativity unique in the history of world culture. They combine music, poetry, and painting in specific emotional and aesthetic correlations. The melodies are historically the oldest component of the triad. They consist of notes arranged in a particular sequence or structure, around which melodies expressing a particular sentiment or ambience are improvised. Following the melodies, poetic verses were composed to describe the appearance, personalities, and, especially, the interpersonal relationships of the personified melodies. In contrast to the music, the poetry associated with ragas was much more limited in its extent and range of expression, serving originally to emphasize various emotions associated with the melodies and, subsequently, functioning as a basis for the visual imagery.

Paintings depicting the melodies were the last of the three associated arts to develop. They were originally mounted as sets in albums containing either thirty-six or forty-two folios. The sets were conceived and organized in a system of "families." Each family is headed by a male (raga), who has five or six wives (raginis) and sometimes several sons (ragaputras) and daughters (ragaputris). This system of raga families was traditionally used to determine the genders of the painted personifications and pronouns used in the verses of poetry but is today much less rigidly followed in musical classifications.

Ragamala Paintings
The names of the ragas are derived from a variety of sources (Gangoly i: 72-79; Kaufmann, pp. 18-20; and Pal 1967, pp. 8-9). The earliest method of naming the melodies often depended on the beginning or dominant note of the composition, as in the Madhyamadi Ragini, which begins with the note Madhyama (corresponding to F in Western musical notation). In addition to this musical basis there are numerous other rationales for the derivations of the ragas' names. Different geographical regions or cities lent their names to melodies, as in Khambhavati Ragini, which is derived from the ancient name of the coastal city of Cambay in Gujarat. Seasons contributed their names, as in Vasant (Spring) Ragini (no. 31). Flowers and animals lent their names, as in Kamala (Lotus) Ragini or Mayuri (Peahen) Ragini. Religious associations influenced the names, as in Bhairavi Ragini, which is dedicated to Siva (no. 5A verso). Tribal ties determined the names of several melodies, as in Malavi Ragini, named after the central Indian tribe of the Malavas. Musicians and royal patrons also gave names to new musical creations, as in jaimpuri Todi Ragini, named for the Shargi kings of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh (r. 1394— 1479). Finally, new names even resulted from the bungling of copyists, as in Patamanjari Ragini, which was originally called Prathama-manjari Ragini.

There are a number of underlying inspirations and cultural correlations inherent to Ragamalas. The most basic involves the time of day or season with which each melody is affiliated. Although these symbolic associations were often ignored by poets and painters, they are considered so sacrosanct by musicians that performing Dipak (Lamp) Raga (no. 5B verso) at any time other than its prescribed midday is believed to incite flames and cause disaster. The most influential thematic corollary to Ragamalas, however, was the extensive literary tradition of ideal loving couples (see introduction to Themes of Romance section), which classifies female lovers (nayikas) and male lovers (nayakas) into two basic emotional stereotypes: ecstatic lovers in union and forlorn ones in separation. Megha Raga, for example, expresses the former, while Todi Ragini symbolizes the latter. The set imagery for Ragamalas was occasionally recast in more devotional garb with the inclusion of Krishna as the hero and Radha or various goddesses as the heroine (nos. 32B, 39).

Musical Modes Ragmala PaintingsAn extensive literary tradition developed in association with Ragamalas. Dating perhaps from the second century of the common era, the Ragasagara (Ocean of melodies) by Dattila is the oldest known text to personify and describe the melodies (Kaufmann 1968, p. 11). This early example notwithstanding, most Ragamala texts date from the thir-teenth century onward. The majority were written in Sanskrit or various dialects of Hindi, with a few works or translations in Persian and Bengali also known (Coomaraswamy 1923; Ebeling 1973, pp. 112-49; and Gangoly, I:I05—50). Among the medieval Sanskrit texts, the most influential iconographic source for the Ragamala paintings produced in the Rajasthani tradition were the Sangitadarpana (Mirror of music) by Damodara Misra dating from about 1625 and the anonymous Sangitamala (Garland of music) of about 1750. In the Pahari tradition, the Ragamala of 570 by Kshemakarna (a court priest from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh; popularly known also as Meshakarna) formed the basis for the radically different pictorial imagery used.

Ragamala paintings exhibit a complex and variable imagery throughout the different geocultural regions of India. Among the earliest surviving examples are those painted at various subimperial Mughal workshops in northern India (nos. 31, 32A). Their iconography accords with the majority of representations from Rajasthan (nos. 32B, 35, 40), Madhya Pradesh (nos. 33, 39), and the Deccan, which together constitute the "Rajasthani tradition" (Ebeling 1973, pp. 56-62). Images produced within this tradition typically portray romantic or devotional scenes involving royal couples in a palatial set-ting complete with attendants. Depictions of ragas in the Rajasthani tradition follow an iconographic order of classification known as the "painters system," a term coined by a leading specialist on Ragamala painting, Klaus Ebeling. Although it was the prevailing ordering system in numerous Rajasthani and related ateliers and forms the conceptual basis of approximately half of all of the known inscribed Ragamalas, its paradigmatic literary origin remains unknown. Within the Rajasthani tradition, a variant ordering subsystem was used for Ragamalas produced at Amber (no. 34) and Jaipur. In addition, a second iconographic system, attributed to an early medieval musicologist named Hanuman, was also utilized for some twenty-five additional Ragamalas (Ebeling 1973, p. 18).

Musical Modes Ragmala Art
Ragamala paintings and drawings made for the courts of Himachal Pradesh (nos. 36-38, drawings on versos of 5A-B), which comprise the "Pahari tradition" (Ebeling 1973, pp. 272-96), typically show individual or paired deities, people, and/or animals. The conceptual source for the Pahari illustrations was Kshemakarna's Ragamala, in which verses 12-97 personify and describe each musical mode, and verses 98-109 compare each melody to either the call of an animal or to a manmade sound (Ebeling 1973, p. 64-78).

Owing to their complex imagery, diverse geographical traditions, and centuries of development, Ragamala paintings frequently exhibit conflicting regional variations for the same melodies. Complicating matters even further is the fact that painters also relied on oral traditions for their compositions, and thus there is often a lack of correspondence between image and text. Perhaps in consequence, the paintings are generally identified by labels or poetic passages that function as a visualization or meditation aid (dhyana-mantra). The lengthy verses of text found on the top or the back of paintings customarily start with a quatrain (caupayi) whose second and fourth lines rhyme and end with a rhyming couplet (doha) that gives the essence of the initial quatrain. Unfortunately, even contemporary, and especially later, inscriptions are occasionally inaccurate.

Today Ragamalas have disappeared from the repertoires of Indian painters and poets. Only the musical modes still burn with the flame of creativity.

Writer - Pratapaditya Pal
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