Mandalika Ragini, Page from a Dispersed Ragamala Series
Indian Paintings of Musical Themes
The most prevalent form of classical music in northern India is the raga. A raga is not a composed piece of music but an established set of tonal, rhythmic, and expressive guidelines from which a musician creates an improvised performance. The guidelines are specific enough that a seasoned listener can recognize any particular raga if it is performed properly. There are many different ragas, and over the centuries they have been organized into categories, described as families, in which related musical themes—called raginis—are considered the wives of a raga, and still others—calledraga-putras—are considered the raga’s sons and daughters.
Each raga is associated with an emotional state and a time of the day and year. Poets imagined brief narratives to capture the feelings inspired by specific ragas—mostly involving the various stages of a romantic relationship—and connoisseurs later commissioned artists to illustrate the poems. These envisioned musical themes, gathered into manuscripts called Ragamalas (“Garlands of Ragas”), became some of the most popular subjects for miniature painting among the ruling elite of northern India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Ragamala subjects were not as popular among South Indian painting patrons as they were among their counterparts in the north. This relatively rare example of a southern ragini painting reflects considerable Persian influence in its use of multiple, layered patterns and a hilly, grass-tufted background. However, the subject, women relaxing in a luxurious setting, is typical of Indian paintings, which often offer imagined views of the forbidden world of the zenana, or women’s quarters of a palace. The central woman is holding a vina, astringed instrument similar to a sitar. Ragamala paintings often contain small references to the music that inspired them.
Opaque watercolors on paper
mid 18th century
sheet: 12 1/4 x 7 in. (31.1 x 17.8 cm)
image: 10 1/2 x 5 3/8 in. (26.7 x 13.7 cm) (show scale)
The Sanskrit text in the upper border, written in black ink in Telegu script reads: “Forever I think of Mandalika. Her hair waves with garlands of syavantika and vakila flowers; she is an auspicious woman with a lovely vina in her hands, and she sits under the divine tree in tortoise position." (Trans. V. Narayana Rao)
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Gift of Dr. Farooq Jaffer
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Indian. Mandalika Ragini, Page from a Dispersed Ragamala Series, mid 18th century. Opaque watercolors on paper, sheet: 12 1/4 x 7 in. (31.1 x 17.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. Farooq Jaffer, 79.266 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 79.266_IMLS_SL2.jpg)
overall, 79.266_IMLS_SL2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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