Ragamala – painting from India

Published On November 22, 2011 | By We Love Brighton | Archive

An exquisite private collection of Indian Ragamala paintings has been showing at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery from October.

Ragamala, generally described as ‘music –inspired painting’, is one of the most charming and popular genres of Indian painting. It flourished from the late 15th century until the late 19th century.

Ragamala means “a garland of ragas” and the rag is the most important concept that any student of Indian music should understand. The Hindi/Urdu word “rag” is derived from the Sanskrit “raga” which means “colour, or passion”

Therefore rag may be thought of as an acoustic method of colouring the mind of the listener with an emotion.

So Ragamalas are a fusion of music, poetry and painting and a raga is a combination of musical notes and frequencies, intended to evoke a specific mood or emotion in the listener, such as melancholy or peacefulness. Ragamala paintings express intense emotions and transport the viewer to the scene itself, evoking the smells of flowers or  a banquet, or the sound of the music in the background.

In late medieval India ragas began to be converted into poetry and verse. The poems describe the mood associated with the raga and also the season and time of the day the raga should be performed. There are six principal ragas, meant to be sung during the six seasons of the year; summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter and spring.

Under Royal patronage, Indian artists began exploring the themes presented in the poems. Up until the 16th century ragamala paintings depicted deities but then shifted to illustrate narrative scenes and daily life, usually based around the love affair of a hero and his heroine. The courtship, misunderstanding, tiffs and reconciliation of a hero and heroine inspired ragamala painters, as well as a themes of unfulfilled love, lovers separated from each other, passionate longing. Such themes are set amongst scenes of mediation, musical performance, hunts, courtly receptions and entertainments.

The exhibition will assert the importance of ragamalas; its literary and poetic history and its association to music. Looking at the different regional styles we will consider the meaning and interpretation of the symbolism within the ragamalas.

Brighton Museum Website

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