A Musician Charms a Mrig (Antelope); folio from a ragamala series (Garland of Musical Modes)

A Musician Charms a Mrig (Antelope), ca. 1825. Folio from a ragamala series (Garland of Musical Modes). India (Rajasthan, Kota). Ink and opaque watercolor on cloth. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Friends of Asian Art, Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Saul Gift, by exchange, 2001 (2001.747)

Exhibition Objects

Featured Media

Sunday at the Met—Rasa and Raga: Painting and Music in Indian Art

Program information

An exploration of the intersection of art and music in Indian court painting.

Welcome and Introduction:
John Guy, Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of the Arts of South and Southeast Asia, Department of Asian Art, MMA

"Seeing Music, Sensing Moods: India's Illustrated Ragamalas"
Molly Emma Aitken, Associate Professor, The City College of New York and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

"An Introduction to Ragas in Indian Classical Music"
Allen Roda, lecturer of music, New York University

Raga Performance:
Ranendra Das, tabla artist
Abhik Mukherjee, sitarist

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Ragamala: Picturing Sound, on view June 14–December 14, 2014.

Recorded October 28, 2014


Picturing Sound

June 14–December 14, 2014

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.