A ragamala, translated from Sanskrit as "garland of ragas," is a series of paintings depicting a range of musical melodies known as ragas. Its root word, raga, means color, mood, and delight, and the depiction of these moods was a favored subject in later Indian court paintings. The celebration of music in painting is a distinctly Indian preoccupation. Ragamalas were first identified as a specific painting genre in the second half of the fifteenth century, but their ancestry can be traced to the fifth- to seventh-century Brihaddeshi treatise, which states: "A raga is called by the learned that kind of composition which is adorned with musical notes . . . which have the effect of coloring the hearts of men." Often, the mood, or raga, is also written as poetry on the margins of the painting. These works thus evocatively express the intersections of painting, poetry, and music in Indian court art.
The unifying subject of a ragamala is love, which is evoked as a range of specific emotions (rasa) that have a corresponding musical form. In paintings these are typically the trials and passions of lovers, which are explored in both sound (raga) and analogous imagery, with a raga generally understood to denote the male protagonist and a ragini the female. These musical modes are also linked to six seasons—summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter, and spring—and times of the day, dawn, dusk, night, and so on.
Created as loose leaf folios, typically thirty-six or forty-two in number, which were stored in a portfolio, ragamala circulated within the inner court circles that commissioned them. Viewing these paintings was a pleasurable pastime for courtiers, their guests, and the ladies of the zenana. These ragamalas were also painted as murals in the private quarters of palaces, though few of these have survived. This exhibition features Indian paintings and musical instruments from the Museum's collection.