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(Posted 8th March 2009)
FRAGMENT FROM A RAGAMALA ILLUSTRATION,
POSSIBLY GAURI RAGINI
POSSIBLY AURANGABAD c.1650
This is a fragment from a dispersed ragamala series in the same manner as Rasamanjari illustrations some scholars believe to have been painted at Aurangabad in 1650 for a Mewar thakur who would have been stationed there whilst campaigning for Aurangzeb, determined to sieze control of the Deccani sultanates. A variation of the style is also seen in a less-refined Gita Govinda, making three series sharing strikingly similar characteristics which current opinion largely agrees as issuing from Aurangabad.
All three series were thought to have originated from Rajasthan, either Bikaner, Nagaur but most especially Ghanerao in Mewar until the discovery by S Doshi of a folio from the Rasamanjari bearing a colophon with information that the texts accompanying it were written in Aurangabad, prompting the speculation that the paintings must also be from there. Doshi's findings were published in Lalit Kala Vol. 5 no.15: An illustrated manuscript from Aurangabad dated 1650 AD (1959), and have since been accepted by a number of art-historians, so that paintings from the series appearing on the market most likely are catalogued with an Aurangabad provenance. Regardless, it should be said that such an attribution must be viewed with caution. Linda York Leach, for example, when discussing a leaf from the Gita Govinda (Indian Paintings and Drawings, no.54) warns us that the Rasamanjari colophon discovered by Doshi is alone insuffiient evidence to conclude the issue. This is especially so given these series' key features remaining Mewari and bearing only some minor elements emblematic of Deccani painting, i.e. carpet patterns, textile prints and use of colours such as lavender. With opinion divided and evidence open to conjecture, Robert Skelton warns of the consideration of Aurangabad as a centre of painting being tricky due to it having been a melting pot of influences.
Whilst this fragment of a painting is but a small part of what was originally painted, it is of some importance in that it is evidence of a previously unknown illustration from the ragamala series. In it we see a maidservant who must have attended the nayika of this particular ragamala illustration. By her shallow golden bowl of white flower blossoms we find her - or similar attendants with an identical bowl of blossoms - in other paintings from the series. One can be seen in Bhairava Raga in Zebrowski's Deccani Painting (instead given the title Krishna enthroned, attended by gopis), fig.32. Another features in Varadi Ragini illustrated in Ehnbom's Indian Miniatures from the Ehrenfeld Collection, no. 41. A third features in the oddly titled Gumaru Ragini, in Krishna's Ragamala Paintings, pl.II. All three feature architectural backdrops. The fragment instead features a lush meadow beside a river (the water appears fast-flowing), filled with low-growing red flowers on the bank, and taller plants elsewhere with white-petalled flowers in bloom. The maid must have looked toward a nayika our left in the complete painting as she is unlikely to be pictured facing away from the heroine. Behind her are tall plants like those in flower before her, but with blossoms plucked - and presumably placed into the bowl she carries - so it seems likely the maid follows the nayika picking flowers and handing them to her to collect in the golden bowl. If these suppositions are correct, the scene would conform to iconography for Gauri Ragini (this series follows the Rajasthani ragamala tradition) which, significantly, is missing from known illustrations from the series. Although standard iconography does not include maidservants with bowls of blossom, their addition is a minor deviation and remains in keeping with others in the series e.g. the Varadi Ragini mentioned above is to my knowledge unique in featuring an attendant with blossom-filled bowl. It is interesting to note that a Malwa ragamala in Bharat Kala Bhavan from around the same date also features a lady with a bowl of blossoms, in Gormalar Ragini, in addition to which a lady's companion has a similar shallow bowl in the same series' Gauri Ragini (Ebeling, no.s 257, 258). This feature is of particular note when considering the like of Zebrowski who states the influence of Malwa painting on that of the northern Deccan, added to which is the melting pot of styles accepted (albeit with differing opinions regarding ingredients) by art-historians as making up the "Aurangabad ragamala" of circa 1650.
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Text and images © Peter Blohm 2009
All images and text © Peter Blohm