A rare fusion of art and music offers a glimpse into India’s rich artistic tradition at a show on at Nanappa Art Gallery

A garland of ragas of Hindustani music, the personification of each raga painted in the miniature format, constitutes Ragamala paintings. The works are on show at Nanappa Art Gallery.

The paintings and prints, 107 out the Akademi’s 140, open the windows to another world. Here music and paintings are wedded harmoniously. The major schools of Ragamala paintings are Pahari, Rajput or Rajasthani, Deccani and Mughal. The genre of painting traces its history back to the early 15th and 16th centuries, there are, however, sources which place it even earlier.

The main figures in these paintings are, inevitably, the parent raga and the raginis (the derivative melody of the raga) are depicted as the other characters–consorts.

Ragas in paint

The works capture the mood of each raga–Hindola, Vasant, Bhairav, Sri, Nat, Deepak are some of the ragas which have been painted. Raga Megh Malhar, a raga related to rain, is captured beautifully in several interpretations of the various schools. Darkening clouds, dancing peacocks, Krishna dancing with his consorts…it is as if it is going to rain. At first the paintings might look the same, but closer inspection reveals a different story. There are minimalistic Ragamala paintings and there are those which have a profusion of details.

Each painting, belonging to different schools, is stylistically individualistic. Some of the works are descriptive right down to the minute element. The foliage and animal life are painted in great detail. Certain paintings have etchings which possibly describe the work, in the artist’s words, in Sanskrit or some other language.

Each raga has its story and it is a must-see whether you know music or not. It is said that the artists sang as they painted or listened to the renditions of the ragas as they painted. It is fascinating how each raga has a different ‘story’, even the elements since certain ragas pertain to a particular time of the day and/or season and how these have been depicted.

Travelling show

The paintings, which are part of the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, have been brought to Kochi in order to “familiarise people with indigenous traditions of painting such as these that exist in the country. It is not just contemporary art. We have a rich tradition of paintings, look at Madhubani, Pithora, Warli, Kalamkari…these should be brought to the mainstream–by the media, by the art fraternity and even by academia,” says Sathyapal, regional secretary Kendra Lalit Kala Akademi.

The travelling show will be taken to various cities and towns in the country for this purpose. Kochi is the show’s third stop, after New Delhi and Dehradun. Paintings and prints make the collection. Some are prints of the older miniatures which were executed on palm leaf. The show concludes on November 20.