An image of Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava

Unknown Artist

Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava

Location
Not on display
Further information

The 'ragamala' is a linked series of paintings based on the classical Indian musical form of the 'raga'. This richly sensual gouache is a classic of the genre, part of an early 'ragamala' from a princely state in the Punjab foothills of the Himalayas. The Basohli school, named after the region in which it flourished, specialised in poetic and lyrical subjects such as this: a pair of courtly lovers in a garden setting. Their tryst is set against a stylised and theatrical background of flaming orange, a colour favoured in Basohli practice. The aristocratic musician plays the 'vina', a traditional stringed instrument, while his consort offers him a betel leaf concoction. The sumptuous effect has been heightened with minute fragments of insect wings on the costumes.

Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg. 293.

Within a flaming orange and smouldering yellow frame, two lovers totally concentrate on each other, the intensity of their absorption hypnotic. The young hero ('nayaka'), seated cross-legged on the 'chowkis' platform, is dressed in a long, pleated white 'jama' with a broad side sash, a turban adorned with feathers and pearl strings, and anointed with aromatic paste, various pendants and jewellery. The heroine ('nayika') wears a diaphanous, full-length muslin outer garment known as 'peshwaj' colourfully striped brocade trousers, and a finely woven 'odhni' dropping naturally from her head. Her palms and fingers are dyed red in henna and she is lavishly bejewelled. The jewellery of both lovers is copiously studded with glowing iridescent fragments of beetle wing, which enhances the luxurious aura of the scene. He plays the 'rabab' with a plectrum while she offers him some 'paan', the popular refreshment of a betel leaf wrapped around a mix of lime, spices crushed areca nut and condiments. The painting is an icon to the joys of love ('sringara'), a dominant theme of ragas, and an outstanding example of the Basohli style of painting.

Basohli was a small fortress town in the Punjab hills in northern India. The various hill states were ruled by Rajput princes belonging to the aristocratic 'kshatriya' caste. The painting of this region, produced in the court ateliers of the various hill states, is referred to as Punjab Hills, or Pahari, painting. The beginnings of Pahari painting can be traced to the state of Basohli during the reign of Raja Kirpal Pal (1678-1695). This strikingly beautiful painting, from a recently discovered ragamala series, can be dated to between 1707 and 1715, on the basis of costume details, thus placing its production in the court atelier of Kirpal Pal's equally cultivated and admired son, Dhiraj Pal (1695-1725) (Tandan, 1983), and making it a significant document in our growing understanding of early Pahari painting.

Jackie Menzies, 'Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art', AGNSW, 1997. pg. 294-296.

Place of origin
Basohli, Punjab Hills, India
Cultural origin
Pahari
Period
India: Rajput (Pahari) circa 1500–1947
Year
circa 1710
Media
Miniature, Painting, Watercolour
Medium
opaque watercolour with gold on paper
Dimensions
16.4 x 16.6 cm image; 19.5 x 19.0 cm sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Credit
Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust 1992
Accession number
199.1992