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Kakubha Ragini, Page from a Dispersed Ragamala Series

Asian Art

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.

Although it is virtually identical in composition to the early seventeenth-century painting labeled Kamoda Ragini (79.187.1), this painting bearsan inscription that identifies it as Kakubha Ragini. It may be that the affiliation between subject and musical theme had changed in the 125 years since the earlier painting was made, or perhaps the subject varied from region to region (other Ragamala series from the kingdom of Bundi identify the woman carrying garlands as Kakubha, but the earlier painting was probably not made in Bundi). Then again, one of the inscriptions may have been added by someone who was confused about the appropriate title.
MEDIUM Opaque watercolor on paper
DATES ca. 1727 (?)
DIMENSIONS sheet: 10 x 7 1/8 in. (25.4 x 18.1 cm) image: 7 1/4 x 4 5/8 in. (18.4 x 11.7 cm)  (show scale)
INSCRIPTIONS Recto, in upper border. In black ink, in Devanagari script: Kakumbha ragani 28. Verso, in black ink, in Devanagari script: Samvat 1784 [A.D. 1727], on the fourth, in the bright half of the month Chaitra [March-April]. / Ragani Kaphi. (Trans. J. Bautze)
CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum Collection
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Indian. Kakubha Ragini, Page from a Dispersed Ragamala Series, ca. 1727 (?). Opaque watercolor on paper, sheet: 10 x 7 1/8 in. (25.4 x 18.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection, X623.1 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, X623.1_transp4577.jpg)
IMAGE overall, X623.1_transp4577.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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