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Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 49

रागिनी खंबावती Khambavati Ragini (The musical mode Khambavati)

Pahari (Guler), <i>c</i>.1760

Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint with decorative incising; set into margins of brown paper with gold metallic ornament | 27.0 × 20.2 cm (page); 22.8 × 15.8 cm (image) | RCIN 925221

This painting belongs to what is commonly known as the Pahari School, pahari meaning ‘from the hills’. Pahari painters hailed from a group of interconnected states in the foothills of the Western Himalayas in northern India which were ruled, as was Rajasthan, by Hindu Rajput rajahs. From the mid-seventeenth century, the Pahari artists had access to Mughal paintings, elements of which were absorbed in varying degrees into their work. This painting shares the shallow conception of space and elegant figural type of imperial Mughal imagery of the early eighteenth century (see cat. no. 45) but with the distinctive graceful touch and fresh palette of the Pahari artists.

The scene is a pictorial representation of a musical melody. In Hindustani classical music, there are no set compositions but frameworks, called ragas, on which musicians build each performance. These ragas are associated with particular scales and distinct melodic structures, to be performed in different seasons and at different times of day. They each have five raginis (‘wives’), giving a typical ragamala (‘garland of ragas’) 36 individual melodies. Each elicits a different rasa (‘essence’ or ‘mood’). This rasa is also expressed in the poetic lyrics which accompany the music and was captured by painters in ragamala paintings.[185]

This painting illustrates the musical mode khambavati ragini, one of the wives of Malkos, the raga associated with autumn and cool, post-Monsoon weather. It is a slow-to-medium tempo, to be played in the early evening, creating an aura of calm as night falls. The painter portrays khambavati as a beautiful young woman performing a solitary fire ritual to the four-headed god Brahma, the creator, as a visual expression of the rasa. Ragamala paintings are also invariably dedicated to the theme of love and longing. Here we see the age-old idea of the creator falling in love with the beauty of his own creation.

The artist achieves the same level of refinement as imperial Mughal painters, burnishing the thin layers of paint then adding final touches to the surface: gold pigment for the jewellery and vessels, pressed with a blunt needle to give it a more textured quality; and an impasto effect on the pearls, into the centre of which the artist has pierced a small depression.

  • [185] For ragamala paintings see Ebeling 1973 and Gangoly 1935. 

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