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Ragmala Painting

A Garland of Melodies or Ragamala may seem too abstract a concept to be pictorially depicted, but one has to only witness the magic of Ragamala paintings to change ones mind.


The rich tradition of Indian Classical music is structured on the foundation of ragas. A raga is a melodic mode, which literally means ‘to color', and is also defined as a permutation and combination of notes or frequencies illustrated by melodic movements. It is believed that these melodies are capable of producing a pleasant sensation, mood or an emotion in the listener.

Some Hindustani (North Indian) ragas are prescribed a time of day or a season. There are six principal ragas - Bhairava, Dipika, Sri, Malkaunsa, Megha and Hindola and these are meant to be sung during the six seasons of the year; summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter and spring. Apart from seasons the ragas are also related to different parts of the day; dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, night and midnight . During the monsoon, for example, many of the Malhar group of ragas-associated with the monsoon-are performed. However these prescriptions are not strictly followed. There has also been an growing tendency over the last century for North Indian musicians to adopt South Indian Ragas. These do not come with any particular time attached to them. The result of these various influences is that there is increasing flexibility as to when ragas may be performed.

The Paintings

These melodies were personified in vivid verbal imagery by Indian musicologists of the late mediaeval period, which provided the source of the Ragamala illustrations. The Sangeeta Ratnakara, an important treatise of the 12th century A.D. for the first time mentions the presiding deity of each raga associating them with certain gods.

The sadhakas (practitioners) decided to capture and comprehend the divine qualities of the ragas and these paintings are the results of that very endeavor.

Under the patronage of the aristocracy, artists explored in great depth the relationship that governs sound and sentiment and the Ragamala art form soon became a dynamic, vibrant movement, making music and dance the subject of art through colour and mood. The earliest Ragamala paintings are from the Deccan and were probably painted for Ibrahim Adil Shah 11 of Bijapur, who was an authority on painting and a fine artist and illuminator himself.

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