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RAGAMALA: Painting the Melodies of Music

Theme: Ragamala Paintings based on Indian Ragas and the melodies.

If we are to enjoy the combination of classical Indian music, medieval poetry, and the painting illustrating the same, we should look at the Ragamala Series of paintings. There are different styles of paintings done under different schools of paintings in India. The artists of every school of paintings have tried their hand on painting this type of artworks.

Radha-Krishna, depicting Bhairava Raga, Ragamala. ca 1770 . Gouache on paper.

If you look at the scriptures of India and Hindu religion, you would find reference of music and the art of dancing. Samveda describes music as an instrument, like meditation and yoga, for attaining ultimate salvation

By passing of time music have developed in Indian subcontinent and became a wide-ranged and deep subject. Indian vocal and instrumental music is based on various Ragas, collectively called as Raga Mala, or Ragamala, meaning the garland of ragas.

What is Ragamala : Though the Ragamala is a musical composition, it has helped creating the series of paintings based on various ragas. As a distinct genre, these paintings are known as Ragamala Paintings. In this style of paintings, artists draw inspiration from various pieces of Indian classical music, such as Raga and Ragini. Their colourful way of building a rhythm within a and their endeavour to embed the feel of music in paintings would take viewers to the point where such visual artworks would appeal directly to the senses. Such artworks make an impact similar to the music.

Raga Personified : Raga is a musical tune of classical Indian style. Every tune has its mood. Each tune, raga, has its assigned colour. These tunes are divided to be sung in a particular season of the year. The time of each raga is set, whether it is to be sung in morning, evening or at night. Thus the classical music of India is a very deep subject touching many forms and fields of arts.

In Ragamala series of paintings, it remains an humble endeavour to explore the beauty of the ragas and how these melodious beauties are embedded in the colours of those paintings which are based on each raga. The subject of Lord Krishna and Radha, his lover were favourite amongst the Ragamala painters. There are six main ragas and the artists have painted numerous frames based on these ragas. Followings are the paintings with description of respective rags and the related artistic aspects attached with Ragamala Paintings.

Ragmala Paintings : Raga Bairava

The Indian vocal and instrumental music are composed of various Ragas. These musical melodies are collectively called as Raga Mala, or Ragamala. The literal meaning of the word Ragamala is ’the garland of the ragas’.

Though the Ragamala is a musical composition, it has been used since centuries for creating the series of paintings based on various ragas. These paintings based on various ragas and raginis are known as Ragamala Paintings.

Bhairava raga, Ragamala, Chunar, near Varanasi, 1591. Opaque watercolour on paper, by pupils of Mir Sayyid 'Ali, an artist at the court of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar.

In the paintings which are known as Ragamala paintings, each raga is personified. Generally a verse that narrates the story of a hero or heroine is selected for the painting. Then for personifying the raga, the artist took the help of colours. The moods of the characters painted are also joined with the mood of the raga. Even the time of the day during which the scene of the painting happened is important. The time slot is carefully selected to depict the nature and the characteristics of the raga being so personified.

Here in this painting the Raga known as Bhairav is personified. The artist, while personifying and depicting a raga from the ragamala, selects a couple, the hero and heroine of the story. The couple is called Nayak and Nayika. Here in this painting personifying raga Bharav, Shiva and his wife Parvati is painted. Bhairava is another name of Lord Shiva, so this raga has got name Bharavi from Bhairav, the Shiva.

Lord Shiva is also worshipped in Hindu religion as the God of Music and dance. In this painting, he is holding a musical instrument and visibly singing with sitting his wife. The painting is believed to be painted by one of the pupils of the master artists known as Mir Sayyid Ali. He was a renowned painter in the court of Emperor Akbar. Painted in the year 1591, this piece of art is a watercolour and is done on paper. During Emperor Akbar’s reign, the miniature paintings of India had become rich in subjects, too. Here we can see the figures like a peacock and the trees as the representatives of the nature. This was a new concept in the India painting.

PAINTINGS BASED OF THE RAGAS


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