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Introduction to Asavari Ragini

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 5:23 AM
Asawari Ragini
Asavari Ragini is a somber melody of the early morning, generally considered to be a wife of Sri Raga. The name is taken from that of the Savaras, an ancient jungle tribe renowned for its snake-charming skills and from whose fluted tunes the ragini is said to derive. The literary descriptions of Asavari Ragini exhibit considerable variance; those corresponding most closely to the Rajasthani-tradition paintings are found in the early seventeenth-century Sangitadarpana of Damodara Misra and a number of other texts paintings of Asavari Ragini display a consistent basic imagery, a woman in the forest communing with cobras, with minor variations She is usually garbed in a leaf skirt, as in the present examples; alternatively she is naked or dressed in aristocratic filter Consistent with the ragini's cultural origin, the heroine displays a ,mastery over the serpents and interacts with them in a number of ways. She can be Shown taming them by hand, through the use of a wind instrument, or by instructing them by hand gestures or the movements of a small stick, usually shaped and brandished like an orchestra conductor's baton. Occasionally, as in painting, male snake-charmers are shown performing their melodic spells. These movements of the stick flute or hands accord with the belief that it is the hypnotic, serpentine movements of Indian snake charmers flutes rather than their actual melodies that mesmerize cobras.

These two illustrations of Asavari Ragini, created slightly more than a century and a half apart, represent an early and a mature stage in the development of the imagery associated with the ragini. Although both depict a leaf-clad heroine accompanied by serpents in a forest, traditionally identified as the snake-infested sandalwood groves of the Malaya mountains in Kerala, there are significant differences between the two representations.

In this painting, a minimally adorned heroine holds one cobra while others slither around her legs, the wooden platform on which she sits, and the tree trunk. The forest is indicated by the two deciduous trees sheltering her as well as by the plantain trees and flora. The subdued browns and greens of the palette, similar to those in the illustration of Vasant Ragini, typify the productions of subimperial Mughal painting workshops.

Asavari RaginiCuriously, this illustration of Asavari Ragini is identified by a label in the upper border as "the ragini of Dipak Raga, number 36" instead of the wife of Sri Raga, which in the Rajasthani tradition the ragini is normally regarded to be. Iconographically, this work presents a much more detailed and expanded version (or vision) of Asavari Ragini than painting A. The simple heroine has been transformed into the goddess Savari, the Saiva tutelary deity of the Savaras. Her identity and divinity are indicated, respectively, by her blue skin, denoting her tribal origins, and by her golden nimbus and crescent moon, emblematic of Siva and Saiva goddesses. This socioreligious elevation is also suggested by her now copious gold-and-pearl jewelry. place of a simple stick the goddess waves an ascetic's crutch in front of a cobra. She sits enthroned on a hilltop plateau symbolic of the Malaya mountains, a compositional feature much more representative of Asavari Raginis than the humble platform of painting A. The forest is also imbued with greater life and variety. Lush blooming trees, a hallmark of Bundi painting, draw the viewer along the recession toward the mountains in the background. Swans and Brahminy ducks gather around a lotus pond in the foreground, a compositional element equally typical of Bundi painting. A snake-charmer playing a bulbous flute (pritigi) completes the composition. Ragamala paintings were particularly popular in Bundi, both as album folios and palace murals.

Writer – Janice Leoshko


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