Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 8

By editor - 10.1 2017

Bangla Ragini 
Ragmala, Malwa, Central India

A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.

1450-1550 A.D. 

Ragamala Paintings are a series of illustrative paintings from medieval India based on Ragamala or the 'Garland of Ragas', depicting various Indian musical nodes. They stand as a classical example of the amalgamation of art, poetry and classical music in medieval India. Beginning in the 16th Century, Ragamala paintings were created in most schools of Indian painting, most notably the Rajasthan or Rajput Ragamala, the Pahari Ragamala, Deccan Ragamala and Mughal Ragamala.

Ragaputra Velavala, Bhairavi Raga
Basohli, Punjab Hills, c. 1710


Many early Ragamala paintings fall under the category of the Western Indian art school. The Pahari Ragamalas are ascribed to both the Pahari (Pahandi) people of the Himalayans, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand, but also to the region of Pakistan. We will briefly explore the Ragamala illustrations done in all these schools over the course of our study, beginning with a comparative look at examples from all the schools, shown here.

Bhairavi Ragini 
Mughal, Amber, Rajasthan, c. 1610

Ragamala paintings comprise a depiction of the Ragas, personified. Each one is represented by a particular Sanskrit verse describing the pastimes of key heroes and heroines (nayakas and nayikas). The Ragas are further illustrated by specific colors and moods, by time of day or night, and by seasons during which the Ragas are to be played and sung.

Parvati Devi (left) and Lord Shiva Bhairavi (right) 
Bhairava Raga, Nepal (Bhaktapur), c. 1625

Most Ragamala paintings also specify a particular deity. Although the deity may not always be pictured in the painting, there is some stylistic reference to a deity. Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, Parvati-Shiva and Sita-Rama are joined by Bhairava and Bhairavi and others.

Hindola Raga 
Deccan, c. 1585


The six principal Ragas are Bhairava, Dipika, Shri, 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. We particularly find many images of Radharani and Krsna in the Megha and Hindola Ragamala paintings.

Top: Krishna holding a Sabre, Megha Raga
Bottom: Shivalinga Puja, Bhairavi Raga 
Mughal, Amber, Rajasthan, c. 1780

Not only are the personification of the six principle Ragas depicted in paintings, but also their wives (raginis) and their sons (ragaputra). The six principle Ragas are male (parent) ragas, each having five raginis and eight ragaputras, except Raga Shri, which has six raginis and nine ragaputras, making a Ragamala family of 86 members Some paintings also feature daughters (ragaputri).

Lord Shiva - Bhairava Raga 
Pahari, Nurpur, c. 1690



Sources: Excerpted and paraphrased from: 
Smithsonian Freer Sackler Gallery 
The British Museum