Ragamala- A garland of hauntingly beautiful melodies

It has been a wonderful morning here in Delhi today. There was a dusty wind earlier in the day followed by mild to heavy rains and now the rain washed city looks absolutely fresh and clean.

The months of May and June are extremely hot for us citizens of Delhi ,so a mild to heavy shower is most welcome though it doesn’t help the farmers of North India who are busy tilling their fields around this time of the year.India’s economy is still quite dependent on agriculture, you see.

The rains have set me thinking- what next to write? And then I get my answer-why not something that instils hope and joy in us? There is a positive correlation between the external environment and the inner soul, isn’t  it,something  about the hauntingly beautiful musical legacy of India!

So, imagine ,if by some magic ,a story is created that brings together music, painting, seasons and divinity ! Sheer magic, isn’t it?It is like creating a 4 dimensional Hollywood blockbuster!Okay okay, I might have gone overboard but then you got the idea, right?

This “blockbuster beautiful epic series of paintings” got going in India somewhere in the 16th and 17th centuries when painters and vocal /non vocal artistes realised it was possible to fuse the elements of painting, seasons, poetry etc into one single theme.This series of paintings is called Ragamala.

There are four main seasons in India- monsoons, winter,spring and summer.Likewise, Indian classical music is represented by 6 main Ragas- Bhairava, Malkaunsa, Deepak, Sri, Hindola and Malhar. Each of these Ragas used to be associated with a specific season e.g. during monsoons, the songs based on Malhar were in vogue.Ragas were also meant to be sung according to specific day parts e.g. a particular raga could be sung only during early morning, another one was specifically associated with say, late afternoon or night and so on. These Ragas you could also say, were associated with the mood and temperament of the listener.

What is a raga; A Raga is basically a combination of musical notes set to a pattern.The Ragas form one of the basic foundations of Indian classical music.They are capable of altering the human mood from one level to another, in a positive way.It is said that Ragas also affect the moods of  animals like cows, deer etc.

Sometime in the later 17th century, the Indian musicologists personified the Ragas into verse or poetry!Music had embraced poetry and there was no looking back! Ragas were now kind of “heroes” and were now courting maidens or “Raginis”! The artistes of the brush took the cue and depicted this “love affair ” in a series of Ragamala paintings. There was a frenzied activity all over the country to explore the chemistry between sound and sentiment.

Each raga represented a particular god in the Hindu pantheon and his wife was the ragini.Their offspring was the Ragaputra or son of the Raga a unique synthesis of music, divinity, painting and season!The Raga also represented a particular colour to be used in the painting and of course, it was mandated that it be rendered during a particular season and at a particular part of the day.

Ragmala- Ragini Kedar painting- Mewar school

Okay, what are Raginis and Ragputras

Each Raga has several wives or Raginis.You can say that is a Raga is a great river, then Raginis are its tributaries. Ragaputras are their children or offshoots.

For e.g. Bhairava Raga has

Raginis;: Bhairavi, Bilawali, Punyaki, Bangli, Aslekhi.

Ragputras: Pancham, Harakh, Disakh, Bangal, Madhu, Madhava, Lalit, Bilaval.

So, there are 6 Ragas, thirty Raginis and forty eight Ragaputras, in all.

Ragini Kamod- Mewar School

Schools of Ragamala

It is said that Kshemkarna, a priest of Rewa region of Madhya Pradesh state of India had first compiled all these ragas and Raginis with their Ragaputras.Broadly, it is considered that there are two main schools of Ragamala- Deccan and Chawand (Mewar).Deccan is the southern part of India comprising mainly the state of Telangana while Chawand was the capital of Mewar during the tumultous times of Maharana Pratap in the late 16th century.

In an earlier post, I have listed Pratap’s contribution to Ragamala which has largely been unnoticed by historians.Here is the link;


Acknowledgements- a)Shri Krishan Jugnu b) Wiki

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