What do you say to a work of art that is a superb fusion of art, poetry and classical music. Such a work of art took off in the
Deccan and it was the product of a royal love for literature, painting and music.
Though the royals were Muslims, they loved classical music and commissioned works on music. One of the Emperors belonging to the
was himself a notable poet, musician and painter. He also wrote a book on music and also had a hand in illustrating it. Muslim Kingdom
This art form, today forms a classic of the bygone era, a period when art, architecture and literature flourished and it gave birth to several fine arts.
Though the art form declined after the Kingdom was annexed by the Mughals, it still continues to inspire awe and amazement, so much so tat interest in this art today has reached a high not only in India but also in the West.
This is the Ragamaala or Ragamala paintings and this style of painting originated in the Adil Shahi Kingdom of Bijapur in the 16th century. It then spread to the other Muslim Kingdoms of the Deccan-Golconda,
Berar, Ahmednagar and Bidar.
Apart from Bijapur and the Deccan, the Raagamala type of paintings were extensively resorted to by the Rajputs and other royal dynasties of Rajasthan and to some extent
However, the earliest Ragamaala painting belong to the Adi Shahi dynasty when Ibrahim Adil Shah, the second, was the Emperor.
The Ragamaala is one of the most unique styles of paintings. It combines Raga-which means melody and Maala, a garland-into a painting.
There are mainly six ragas that are used in such type of paintings. These six ragas which are sung during the seasons of the year are Bhairava, Dipika, Sri, Malkaunsa, Megha and Hindola. They represent summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter and spring.
The ragas are also related to different parts of the day like the dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, night and midnight. The Ragamala painting usually describes the story of a man and his beloved (known as nayaka and nayaki, hero or heroine) along with the time of the day and the season. Along with the ragas, the paintings also depict the wives of ragas who are called raginis, their sons ragaputra and daughters ragaputris.
Thus each painting has a story to tell and the story is narrated with through art, poetry and classical music. The Ragamala paintings come across as a series of illustrative paintings based on Ragamaala or the Garland of Ragas, depicting various Indian ragas.
These paintings today represent a classical example of the amalgamation of art, poetry and classical music in medieval
Ragamala paintings are today named as Pahari Ragamala, Rajasthan or Rajput Ragamala, Deccan Ragamala, and Mughal Ragamala depending on the province in which they are painted.
In these paintings, each raga is personified by a colour, mood, a verse describing a story of a hero and heroine. It also paints the season and the time of day and night in which a particular raga is to be sung, More astonishingly, a majority of the paintings are addressed to specific Hindu deities attached with ragas, like Bhairava or Bhairavi to Shiva, Sri to Devi.
The classification of the ragas in such paintings is based on
Sangeeta Ratnakara, an important 12th century AD text on music. This mentions for the first time ever the presiding deity of each raga.
The Ragamala paintings owe a lot to Kshemakarna, a priest of Rewa in
Central India who in 1570 compiled a poetic text on the Ragamala in Sanskrit. It was in this text that he first described six principal ragas—Bhairava, Malakoshika, Hindola, Dipaka, Sri, and megha-each having five Raginis and eight Ragaputras, except Raga Sri, which has six Raginis and nine Ragaputras, thus making Ragamala a closeted family of 86 members
Most of the Ragamala paintings tend to stick to the principles enunciated by Kshemakarna. The first such painting was by the Adil Shahi emperor, Ibrahim Adil Shah, the second. Apart from being an excellent painter and illustrator, he was also a renowned musician and composer. He personally illustrated his Ragamaala paintings and also built Nauraspur-a city which he wanted to base on the nine rasas of music (This city, which was never completed, is in ruins adjacent to Bijapur and near Torvi).
To this Emperor goes the credit of making Ragamaala a miniature painting. Each painting is accompanied by a brief caption or poem that describes the mood of the raga, most frequently devotion and love – in its various aspects.
Ragamala painting flourished throughout the royal courts of
India but it went into a rapid decline after the advent of the British in . India
The earliest Ragamaala paintings are from the city of
in Karnataka. They were painted for Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur. Bijapur
One of the best books on Ragamaala is Nujum-al-Ulum or the Stars of Sciences which is a superbly illustrated encyclopedia dated 1570 was painted in Bijapur. It is presently in Chester Beatly Library in
. Dublin, Ireland
The book contains a total of 876 miniature paintings. Ibrahim owned the book and it later went out of the Adil Shahi collection and today it is in
. Both Ibrahim (1580-1627) and his predecessor, Ali Adil Shah, the first (1558-1580) were patrons of art and literature. Ibrahim commissioned the Nujum sometime in 1590. England
The book has illustrations on astronomy and this is traced to a Turkish manuscript by Fuzuli (1483-1556) the Ottoman poet, writer and thinker whose real name is Muhammad bin Suleyman.
Apart from Bijapur, the other prominent Deccani centres of Ragamaala were Ahmadnagar, Golkonda and
Blue, red and pink were the favourite colours of
Deccan painters and illustrators and the designing patterns have a geometric thrust and tend to be highly symmetrical.