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Ragamala paintings are a form of Indian miniature painting, a set of illustrative paintings of the Ragamala or "Garland of Ragas", depicting variations of the Indian musical modes called ragas. They stand as a classical example of the amalgamation of art, poetry, and classical music in medieval India.


Sangita Ratnakara (Ocean of music and dance) is one of the most important musicological texts from India.

It was composed by Sarangadeva in Sanskrit during the 13th century, both Hindustani music and Carnatic music traditions of Indian classical music regard it as a definitive text. The author was a part of the court of King Singhana II (1210-1247) of the Yadav dynasty whose capital was Devagiri, in Maharashtra, India.

The text is divided into seven chapters.

The first six chapters Svaragatadhyaya, Ragavivekadhyaya, Prakirnakadhyaya, Prabandhadhyaya, Taladhyaya, and Vadyadhyaya deal with the various aspects of music and musical instruments, while the last chapter Nartanadhyaya deals with dance. The medieval era text is one of the most complete historical Indian treatises on the structure, technique, and reasoning on music theory that has survived into the modern era, and is a comprehensive voluminous text on ragas (melodies) and talas (rhythms).

The Ragas, which for the first time mentions the presiding deity of each raga. From the 14th century onwards, they were described in short verses in Sanskrit, for dhyana, 'contemplation'.

Sarang Ragini


The ragas were later depicted in a series of paintings, called the Ragamala paintings. Some of the best available works of Ragamala are from the 16th and 17th centuries when the form flourished under royal patronage.

Ragamala paintings were created in most schools of Indian painting, starting in the 16th and 17th centuries, and are today named accordingly as Pahari Ragamala, Rajasthan, Rajput Ragamala, Deccan Ragamala, and Mughal Ragamala.

Each raga is personified by colour, mood, and a verse describing a story of a hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika), it also elucidates the season and the time of day and night in which a particular raga is to be sung; and most paintings also demarcate the specific Hindu deities attached with the raga, like Bhairava or Bhairavi to Shiva, Sri to Devi, etc.

The paintings depict not just the Ragas, but also their wives, (raginis), their numerous sons (ragaputra), and daughters (ragaputri).

In 1570, Kshemakarna, a priest of Rewa in Central India, compiled a poetic text on the Ragamala in Sanskrit, which describes six principal Ragas"Bhairava, Deepak, Malakoshika, Hindola, Shri, and Megha. these ragas are meant to be sung during the six seasons of the year " summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter, and spring.

Ragas were the parent melodies and each raga was having five Raginis (wives) and eight Ragaputras (sons), except Raga Shri, which has six Raginis and nine Ragaputras, thus making a Ragamala family of 86 members.

Goda Raga

The breakdown is:

  1. Parent Raga: Bhairava raga
  2. Wives: Bhairavi, Bilawal, Punyaki, Bangli, Aslekhi. 
    Sons: Pancham, Harakh, Disakh, Bangal, Madhu, Madhava, Lalit, Bilaval.
  3. Parent Raga: Malkaus raga
  4. Wives: Gaundkari, Devagandhari, Gandhari, Seehute, Dhanasri.
    Sons: Maru, Mustang, Mewara, Parbal, Chand, Khokhat, Bhora, Nad.
  5. Parent Raga: Hindola raga
  6. Wives: Telangi, Devkari, Basanti, Sindhoori, Aheeri.
    Sons: Surmanand, Bhasker, Chandra-Bimb, Mangalan, Ban, Binoda, Basant, Kamoda.

  7. Parent Raga: Deepak raga
  8. Wives: Kachheli, Patmanjari, Todi, Kamodi, Gujri. 
    Sons: Kaalanka, Kuntal, Rama, Kamal, Kusum, Champak, Gaura, Kanra.

  9. Parent Raga: Sri raga
  10. Wives: Bairavi, Karnati, Gauri, Asavari, Sindhavi. 
    Sons: Salu, Sarag, Sagra, Gaund, Gambhir, Gund, Kumbh, Hamir.

  11. Parent Raga: Megh raga
  12. Wives: Sorath, Gaundi-Malari, Asa, Gunguni, Sooho. 
    Sons: Biradhar, Gajdhar, Kedara, Jablidhar, Nut, Jaldhara, Sankar, Syama.


The paintings were created as loose-leaf folios, typically thirty-six or forty-two in number, which was stored in a portfolio, named Ragamala which were circulated within the inner court circles that commissioned them. Viewing these paintings was a pleasurable pastime for courtiers, their guests, and the ladies of the zenana. These ragamalas were also painted as murals in the private quarters of palaces.

The Ragamala paintings depict various musical modes of north Indian music, ragas. Each painting is accompanied by a brief inscription that suggests the mood of the raga, most frequently love " in its various aspects " and devotion. For nearly 400 hundred years Ragamala was one of the most popular genres of Indian miniature painting. These exquisitely painted melodies would have been commissioned and exchanged by admirers of painting, poetry, and music. Yet, having thrived in the royal courts of India from the second half of the 15th century, this genre dwindled in the late 19th century with the decline of aristocratic patronage. Ragamalas were created in most centers of Indian painting, but in the majority of cases, the identity of the painters and scribes remains unknown.

Interpretation of inscriptions and regional imagery helps us identify ragamalas of particular periods and localities.

Asavari Ragini

These loose pages, from multiple Ragamala sets, cover practically the whole of the Indian subcontinent: from the plains of Rajasthan to the Pahari region in the foothills of the Himalayas, down to the Deccan and up to the mountains of Nepal.

At the root of Ragmala is the sacred essence of the raga " five or more musical notes upon which a melody is played. More than just a sound, a raga evokes an emotional response in the listener; it should 'colour' the mind. Medieval Hindustani musicians associated each raga with a deity, naming the raga, perhaps as a means of memorising the melodic structure.

Intrigued poets of the late medieval period then personified the ragas and elaborated their tales in vivid verbal imagery. These stories, along with other influential texts on Indian classical music, provided the poetic source of Ragamala painting.

The first known record of Ragamala painting can be found on the margins of a now missing manuscript dated to c.1475, from western India. Images of dancing pose and personified musical notes were used to enliven the text. Hindu deities personify the ragas and their raginis, the 'wives' of the ragas.

By the middle of the 16th century, Ragamala painting began to move away from the depiction of singular divine icons. Narrative scenes of human beings in their environment, expressing love and longing for their deity became the artists' focus. The landscape and architectural surroundings, barely hinted at in early ragamalas, became more central to each painting. Views of daily life, particularly special events, were gradually added to the popular repertoire of Ragamala subjects. The spread of the Hindu devotional movement bhakti encouraged a more personal, emotional relationship between the devotee and the deity and undoubtedly influenced the change in focus in Ragamala painting.

Other literary sources which may explain the shift in Ragamala themes are treatises on love, such as Rasikapriya, in which the Hindu gods Radha and Krishna are a model for human lovers. The three main characters are the hero, the heroine, and her confidante. Their courtship, misunderstandings, tiffs, and eventual reconciliations gave poets, and in turn painters, ample inspiration.

Kuntal Ragini

Constant changes in administrative and military postings around the empire during the Mughal period (16th to 19th centuries) were an important factor in the transmission of Ragamala painting styles and subjects. Painters and scribes likely travelled across the Indian subcontinent with their aristocratic patrons. Imagery commonly found in early ragamalas from Rajasthan, in northern India, is curiously repeated in later ragamalas in other far-flung parts of the Empire. Artists from Rajasthan, who traditionally produced small Ragamala sets of 36 or 42 paintings, would travel to the Deccan, southern India, where larger Ragamala sets, containing up to 86 paintings, were more popular. Confronted with commissions for more complex ragamalas, the Rajasthani painters and scribes would reinvent subject matter familiar to them and fill in the gaps.

The migration of ragamalas and the artists from southern India northwards was also influential in the creation of 'hybrid' imagery, based on guesswork, as well as puns on the many meanings of the word raga itself.

Devotion and the Deccan Love, especially unfulfilled and consuming passion, is an overarching theme of Ragamala painting. The southern Deccan depicts a heroine in a particular state of love. While love in a union is occasionally represented, scenes of longing and loss frequently hold centre stage.

In the wake of devotional movements which swept through northern India from the 14th century, both Hindu and Muslim mystics interpreted 'love in separation' as an allegory of the human soul divided from God. It is personified by the virahini, the woman separated from her lover. The Deccani paintings display how a passionate devotion to God is the only means of salvation. Offsetting the dramatic foreground, the linear backdrop owes a great deal to the later Mughal style which encouraged painters to use perspectival recession. Such compositions owe a great deal to a style developed in the north for the Nawabs (rulers) of Oudh. Nawab Shuja' ud-Daula and his son Asaf ud-Daula employed several European painters at their court, including artists such as Johan Zoffany and Tilly Kettle and it is not surprising that European-inspired devices were put to effective use by Ragamala painters.

Nepalese Ragamala paintings from Nepal are relatively rare. The mainstream tradition of Nepalese painting was devoted to sacred themes, and paintings were intended to aid the viewer in performing religious observance. These mid-17th-century pages follow the horizontal format of Nepalese sacred manuscripts of the medieval period. When they are turned over, the reverse image appears upside-down, which suggests an original binding along their top edges. Nepalese paintings do not appear to have been produced at a royal court but are rather a work commissioned by a merchant or nobleman who was particularly devoted to music.

Rajasthani paintings in Ragamala style painted by me can be obtained from the website. Handpainted as well as A2 size print versions are available. Please visit the links below: 








Metropolitan Museum. 

Dulwich Picture Gallery.