Painting of "Bhairavi Ragini"

Unknown artistcirca 1675

Royal Ontario Museum

Royal Ontario Museum
Toronto, Canada

The genre of Ragamala paintings flourished in western India, the Deccan, and the Pahari region during the 16th to 19th centuries. Ragamala painting is a confluence of three artistic forms: music, poetry, and painting. They are illustrations of poetic verses composed to go along with codified modes of classical Indian music. Ragamala paintings correspond to modes of classical Indian music called "Ragas". A Raga can be loosely translated as a melody, cluster of notes, or tonal framework for composition and improvisation that evokes a particular musical idea and is associated with a certain emotive state. The word raga comes from the Sanskrit root "ranga", meaning ‘colour’ and is said to be “that which tinges the mind with colour”. Mala means ‘necklace’ or ‘garland’. Thus Ragamala refers to a set or garland of musical modes. Applied to visual art, the term refers to the set of paintings of which this painting would have originally been a part. In the evolution of Indian music, Ragas became associated with certain Hindu deities who were understood to ‘descend’ into the music during a particularly inspired performance. To address the deified form, prayer formulas (dhyanas) were devised and passed from teacher to student. In the 15th -16th centuries, with the resurgence of popular Hinduism commonly referred to as The Bhakti Movement, poets and preachers captured the hearts of people with songs and poems extolling the human characteristics of the divine. Poets composed verses to go along with Ragas that described deities in various situations, especially devotional, romantic, or heroic contexts. These poems, often inscribed on the back or front of the works themselves, serve as the basis of the visual imagery in Ragamala painting. This particular painting is the Bhairavi Ragini. Bhairai is the devoted and compassionate consort of Bhairav. She is usually portrayed in a small shrine worshipping a lingum, an oblong-shaped stone that is the abstract manifestation of Shiva and symbolic of his creative cosmic energy. In this work, the Ragini places lotus petals on the lingum as a sign of devotion. The musical version is usually played at the conclusion of a concert and meant to express the poignancy of separation.

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  • Title: Painting of "Bhairavi Ragini"
  • Creator: Unknown artist
  • Date: circa 1675
  • Location: Mewar, Rajasthan, India
  • Provenance: Charles Green Collection. This acquisition was made possible with the generous support of the Louise Hawley Stone Charitable Trust Fund. Certified by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. Atteste par la Commission canadienne d’examen des exportations de biens culturels en vertu de la Loi sur l’exportation et l’importation de biens culturels
  • Type: painting
  • Medium: opaque watercolour on paper
  • Accession Number: 2009.10.10