Leaf from a Ragamala: Vairati Ragini India, Bilaspur Early 18th century Gouache heightened with gold on paper Folio: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm.) Image: 8 1/4 x 6 in. (21 x 15.2 cm.)
Especially affluent in the Bilaspur region, Ragamala painting was a favored subject of many rulers, courtesans, and artists alike. Ragamalas depict ragas, or musical melodies, to blend the various mediums of culture. This type of painting systematically employs iconography, musical modes, and poetry to represent a particular emotion, and time of day and year. This work captures Vairati Ragini, the first wife of Shri Raga, a Ragini described in the poet Kshemkarna’s 16th century Ragamala. Kshemkarna, also known as Mesakarna, compiled older, unknown sources into his Ragamala that detail six ragas, each with five raginis (wives), and eight ragaputras (sons), describing each musical mode as a personality of divine or aristocratic figures. He also matched each tune with the voice of an animal or sound of some sort of human activity.
The visual image of Vairati Ragini is detailed by Kshemkarna in verse 100 as a woman and her sakhi appreciating the cool wind of a fly whisk, while comparing the associated music to the voice of the water buffalo. The animal is illustrated here, appearing quite bull-like, approaching the two women with a pleasant expression on his face. For an earlier Bilaspur painting of this subject, see Vairati Ragini: Two Maidens Seated in a Pavilion Visited by a Grey Bull, sold at Bonhams’s London on April 25, 2017, lot 293.
Leaf from a Bilaspur Ragamala Gunkali Ragini of Megh Raga inscribed in Takri India, Bilaspur c. 1700 Gouache with gold on paper
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Asia Week NY 2019
Arcane Masters: A Curated Exhibition of Indian and Himalayan Art
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