Skip Navigation

Kamoda Ragini, Page from a Dispersed Ragamala Series

Asian Art

Indian Paintings of Musical Themes

The most prevalent form of classical music in northern India is the raga. A raga is not a composed piece of music but an established set of tonal, rhythmic, and expressive guidelines from which a musician creates an improvised performance. The guidelines are specific enough that a seasoned listener can recognize any particular raga if it is performed properly. There are many different ragas, and over the centuries they have been organized into categories, described as families, in which related musical themes—called raginis—are considered the wives of a raga, and still others—calledraga-putras—are considered the raga’s sons and daughters.

Each raga is associated with an emotional state and a time of the day and year. Poets imagined brief narratives to capture the feelings inspired by specific ragas—mostly involving the various stages of a romantic relationship—and connoisseurs later commissioned artists to illustrate the poems. These envisioned musical themes, gathered into manuscripts called Ragamalas (“Garlands of Ragas”), became some of the most popular subjects for miniature painting among the ruling elite of northern India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Ragamala imagery was favored by the rulers of the neighboring kingdoms of Bundi and Kota in southern Rajasthan. They had their painters create dozens of sets of musical paintings, often copying the compositions of previous series but slightly altering the details, colors, and resulting effect. The inscription at the top of this page indicates that it depicts Kamoda Ragini, but even though its subject is similar to that of the other Kamoda shown here—a lonely woman waiting for her lover in the woods—it represents it in a different way. Here the woman has laid out a bed of flower petals on which she reclines, anticipating the tryst. The presence of a peacock suggests sadness because the bird’s cry is thought to sound like the sobs of a woman.
MEDIUM Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
DATES ca. 1685
DIMENSIONS Sheet: 14 3/16 x 10 1/8 in. (36 x 25.7 cm) Other (Image): 8 3/16 x 4 3/4 in. (20.8 x 12.1 cm) Other: 16 x 22in. (40.6 x 55.9cm)
INSCRIPTIONS In upper border. In black ink, in Devanagari script: Kavitta [the name of the meter] has made her bed of garlands of flowers, and there are many flowers in her vicinity. She is trying to pluck flowers from their stems..... All her limbs are decorated with ornaments, her fair complexion is further enhanced by her heavy breasts. She listens to the pleasing tones of the Ragini Kamodani [alternately called Kausmudi or Kaimoda] which steels the heart of everyone. (Trans. S. P. Tewari) At top of image. Left: 27, Ragini of [Raga] Panchama. Kamoda Ragini, to be sung in the first quarter of the night. (Trans. J. Bautze)
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE Anonymous gift
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.