Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava

Unknowncirca 1710

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Sydney, Australia

The 'ragamala' is a linked series of paintings based on the classical Indian musical form of the 'raga'. This richly sensual gouache is a classic of the genre, part of an early 'ragamala' from a princely state in the Punjab foothills of the Himalayas. The Basohli school, named after the region in which it flourished, specialised in poetic and lyrical subjects such as this: a pair of courtly lovers in a garden setting. Their tryst is set against a stylised and theatrical background of flaming orange, a colour favoured in Basohli practice. The aristocratic musician plays the 'vina', a traditional stringed instrument, while his consort offers him a betel leaf concoction. The sumptuous effect has been heightened with minute fragments of insect wings on the costumes.

Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg. 293.

Within a flaming orange and smouldering yellow frame, two lovers totally concentrate on each other, the intensity of their absorption hypnotic. The young hero ('nayaka'), seated cross-legged on the 'chowkis' platform, is dressed in a long, pleated white 'jama' with a broad side sash, a turban adorned with feathers and pearl strings, and anointed with aromatic paste, various pendants and jewellery. The heroine ('nayika') wears a diaphanous, full-length muslin outer garment known as 'peshwaj' colourfully striped brocade trousers, and a finely woven 'odhni' dropping naturally from her head. Her palms and fingers are dyed red in henna and she is lavishly bejewelled. The jewellery of both lovers is copiously studded with glowing iridescent fragments of beetle wing, which enhances the luxurious aura of the scene. He plays the 'rabab' with a plectrum while she offers him some 'paan', the popular refreshment of a betel leaf wrapped around a mix of lime, spices crushed areca nut and condiments. The painting is an icon to the joys of love ('sringara'), a dominant theme of ragas, and an outstanding example of the Basohli style of painting.

Basohli was a small fortress town in the Punjab hills in northern India. The various hill states were ruled by Rajput princes belonging to the aristocratic 'kshatriya' caste. The painting of this region, produced in the court ateliers of the various hill states, is referred to as Punjab Hills, or Pahari, painting. The beginnings of Pahari painting can be traced to the state of Basohli during the reign of Raja Kirpal Pal (1678-1695). This strikingly beautiful painting, from a recently discovered ragamala series, can be dated to between 1707 and 1715, on the basis of costume details, thus placing its production in the court atelier of Kirpal Pal's equally cultivated and admired son, Dhiraj Pal (1695-1725) (Tandan, 1983), and making it a significant document in our growing understanding of early Pahari painting.

Jackie Menzies, 'Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art', AGNSW, 1997. pg. 294-296.


  • Title: Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: circa 1710
  • Location: Basohli/Punjab Hills/India
  • Physical Dimensions: 16.4 x 16.6 cm image; 19.5 x 19.0 cm sheet
  • Provenance: Baron Bachofen von Echt; Raja Tandan; Sotheby's London, Apr 1992, London/England, Purchased at Sotheby's (London), 29th April 1992 auction, lot 11 through Margaret E Tyler,Indian and Islamic Art, Manuscripts and Books, London. Funds from Margaret Olley's Art Trust was used to purchase the work upon which the work was given to the AGNSW.
  • Type: Miniature, Painting, Watercolour
  • Rights: Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust 1992
  • External Link: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/199.1992
  • Medium: opaque watercolour with gold on paper
  • Signature & Date: Not signed. Not dated.

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