Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Studies in Rajput Painting: I. Raga-Ragini Series

By G. Venkatachalam

Studies in Rajput Painting


The pioneering work of Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy in making a critical study and careful classification of the large output of the mediaeval paintings of India, has been of considerable help to other students who followed him, in not only opening up a new field of research and study of an interesting phase and period of Indian art, but also in indicating its prominent features and salient points and thus removing a mass of confusion that once existed in the minds of the people with regard to it. There was a time when even the best of European connoisseurs of Indian art confused the Hindu art of Rajput painting with its later development, the Islamic art of Mughal painting, and often did not know the difference between such strikingly different styles as the Jaipurkalam’ of the Rajasthani school and the

Kangra or Basholi ‘kalams’ of the Pahari schools of Rajput painting. The little details of dress, ornamentation, ground, grouping, facial type, colour-scheme and composition, all these were not properly studied and made use of to fix the approximate dates and schools of painting of that period. Though later students like Goetz, Gobileuw, Gangoly, Ghose, Mukandilal and others have added more valuable materials and dealt with other aspects of this art not touched by Coomaraswamy, for a long time to come the latter's book ‘Rajput Painting’ (in two volumes) will be the standard work on the subject. The fixing of dates, styles and schools, in the case of all ancient arts is at all times a hazardous task, and Coomaraswamy has, no doubt, with the insufficient materials at his disposal and working single-handed, committed a few errors in mixing up the sub-schools of this painting, such as Jammu for Basholi or Basholi for Rajasthani, but considering the time and the confusion of materials, his was a remarkable achievement. It is much easier now to classify Rajput paintings into their different sub-schools and styles, as there are more researchers now in the field and more materials are available.

Dr. Coomaraswamy considered the ‘Ragini’ series of Rajput paintings in his collection the earliest examples of that art and fixed their date as early sixteenth century; later researches showed that the Basholi ‘primitives’ are of earlier date than the ‘Ragamala’ series, though both revealed almost the same pictorial qualities. But it was Coomaraswamy that first drew the attention of the world to the significance of this unique feature in Rajput painting, that of interpreting abstract things in terms of pictorial representations. Human passions, nature's moods, musical melodies, all these have been treated in a fascinating and an original manner in these pictures. The most well-known of them are the ‘Raga-ragini’ and ‘Nayak-nayika’ series which have received considerable attention at the hands of students, art-lovers and connoisseurs. It is often asked how far these pictorial representations of ‘ragas’ are true to musical art and science, and whether there is any systematized thought behind them; do they actually convey any meaning to the musicians and composers and is there any traceable relationship between the melody and its pictorial form as conceived by these old artists? I have heard learned musicians repudiate any such associations; and in fact, at the All-India Musical Conference at Lucknow in 1925, a discussion was started on this subject among a small group of friends, and I found that they considered these ‘ragini’ pictures as far-fetched and fantastic. A ‘ragini’ picture, at best, is, in the happy phrase of Percy Brown, ‘visualized music’. It is not an attempt to combine the two arts of music and painting in any conscious manner, as Percy Brown thought them to be, but it is the artistic transmutation of a ‘bhava,’ emotion or sentiment, evoked in the composer or the hearer by a certain melody, rendered into beautiful forms and colours, conveying the special mood or passion which that particular melody has as its inherent quality. If art is ‘expression’, then every mood or passion can be expressed in terms of allied arts, and if architecture can be called ‘frozen music’ (rightly so), a ‘ragini’ picture can well be called ‘visualized music’. It is really difficult to trace the origin of this method of picture-making or the causes that evolved it. It is however certain, from the examples extant, that they may have originated between the 15th and 16th century and had for their inspiration the rich Sanskrit and Hindi literatures, which were of considerable poetic beauty and descriptive power. Folk-songs, devotional hymns, religious poetry and ‘Bhakti’ cult were in their ascendancy during that period; saints and singers wandered over the land gladdening the hearts of men; Vaishnavism and Mysticism inspired men to higher life and nobler arts, and thus it came to be that the period was rich in artistic creation. The Rajput painting is the epitome of the lyrical fervour of that culture, as the Ajantan frescoes were the epitome of the intellectual achievement of the Gupta period.

And now, what are ‘ragini’ pictures and what is their aesthetical significance? A ‘raga’ is a melody-mould or melody-type, containing a series of notes within an octave, and is the basis of melody in Indian music. ‘Raginis’ are feminine modes of ‘ragas’. Each ‘raga’ has a particular sentiment, mood, passion, and is associated with particular time, season and occasion. The musical character of different ‘ragas’ are well-known to musicians in India, though they question the mental visualisations of them in terms of faultless lines and palpitating colours. It is conceded, for instance, that certain ‘ragas’ should be sung only in the morning time and certain others in the evening time; certain to be sung in the time of spring and certain others only in summer. There is, in fact, an elaborate classification on the subject, and Rajah Sir S. M. Tagore thus describes the passions to be associated with the six principal ‘ragas’:

"‘Sriraga’ is to be sung in the dewy season, and represents love. ‘Vasanta’ is the ‘raga’ of the spring, and is allied with the emotion of joy. ‘Bhairavi’ is the ‘raga’ of asceticism and reverence. ‘Panchama’ is the ‘raga’ of the calm night. ‘Megh’ is the ‘raga’ of the rainy season and is allied with the emotion of exuberant joy, such as the coming of the rainy season to so many in India. ‘Nattanarayana’ is the ‘raga’ of battle and fierce courage."

Mr. Lakshmana Pil1ay, an accomplished South Indian musician, gives another interesting description of the emotions associated with the different ‘ragas’:

"’Todi’ and ‘Bhairavi’ represent majesty, and impress one like the march of a stately king, decked in all his regal glory; ‘Asavari’ and ‘Punnagavarali’ are wrapped in melancholy, like one pleading the cause of a sovereign unjustly deposed from his throne and power; ‘Girvani’ and ‘Vasanta’ look serene and subdued like a sage sitting in a lonely forest or on a mountain, calmly contemplating the beauty of the universe; ‘Mohana’ and ‘Purvakalyani’ appear like a coy maiden hiding her love, as a rose does its blooming petals beneath its bower of green, but withal conscious of its beauty and attractiveness; ‘Nilambari’ and ‘Yadukulakam-bhoji’ come submissive and imploring, melting the soul into streams of tender devotion, like a true ‘bhakta’ full of prayers in the presence of God. Thus each ‘raga’ comes and goes with its store of smiles or tears, of passion or pathos, its noble and lofty impulses, and leaves its mark on the mind of the hearer."

There are anecdotes told how great musicians like Tansen, Thyagaraja, Naik Gopal, Todi Sitaramayya and others produced the conditions and emotions associated with them by singing appropriate ‘ragas’ and thus wrought what appeared musical miracles. It is this inherent power in music that these pictures attempt to indicate, if not actually illustrate. Take for instance a popular ‘raga’ like ‘Todi’, which is considered as one of the brides of ‘Vasanta raga’. It is generally represented by a young woman, clothed in a snow-white sari and perfumed with camphor. In her hands, she holds a ‘vina’ and a garland of flowers. A deer follows her, attracted by her music. In the foreground there is water and lotus, a common motif in all these pictures. The ground is a bright sun-scorched landscape, indicating that this particular ‘raga’ is sung at midday. ‘Asavari ragini’ has a young woman seated on a carpet beneath a sandal tree at the foot of a grassy hill surmounted by a tower. Cobras are attracted by the music and crawling all round. Clouds in the sky with lightning flares. ‘Ragini Gaura (mallara)’ is represented by a young woman of blue complexion, standing on a grassy hill between two flowering trees, dancing and singing to the ‘vina,’ while peacocks are attracted by the music. Heavy clouds, rain and lightning in the sky. ‘Panchama’ is shown by a picture of shower in the hot weather and a band of musicians playing round. Peacocks spread out their tails and call in joy, and frogs sit round and croak. The leaf-buds of trees show new red shoots; the cattle hold up their heads refreshed. Waterfowl gather round the parched pool, and overhead a horde of white herons fly across. ‘Megh raga’ is a delightful little picture of Krishna dancing with a lotus-bud in his right hand and a garland of flowers round his neck, surrounded by a group of girl-musicians with different musical instruments in their hands with which they are accompanying the dance. The foreground has water, flowers and birds, and in the distance of the ground hills and town. Black rolling clouds threaten to deluge the place and there is the joyous expectancy of rain everywhere. There are, of course, other different versions and representations of the same theme, but the main motif is mostly the same. They are not mere pictorial fantasies revealing the extraordinary imaginative perception of the old masters in giving forms and shapes to intangible things as human emotions, abstract melodies, seasonal variations and such other things, but conscious creative effort to interpret the deeper problems of life and art. It is the resultant of the conscious realization of the underlying unity and harmony of all life, and therefore of all arts.

These melody-pictures have very striking and interesting pictorial qualities and are aesthetically very appealing. There is a vigorous archaic style about them; the colourings are bright and pleasing. They are by no means highly refined and daintily finished pictures like Mughal portraits or Kangra miniatures. The figures are often crude; they have nothing of the charm and fascination of the bewitching profiles of the women of Kangra artists. In technique also, they are far below the highly finished and exquisitely coloured works of Kangra masters. But in other respects they are unique, strange and vital. Their main features are summed up by Coomaraswamy as follows:

"The borders are pink with yellow bands above and below; the horizons are high with room for a band of dark sky, passing into a strip of clouds. Sometimes, there are also represented snaky red-gold lightnings and falling rain. A common motif is the representation of water and lotus in the foreground. A characteristic feature is the representation of floating draperies and of coloured garments seen through coats and skirts, yellow and white. Night scenes also appear in these series. The heroines’ eyes are large as lotus flowers, tresses fall in heavy plaits, breasts are firm and round, thighs are full and smooth, hands like rosy flowers, gait dignified as any elephant, and their demeanour is demure."

Apart from their technical and aesthetical merits, these little pictures constitute a veritable tour de force of mental visualization and imaginative interpretation in the art- history of the world.

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