Raga Megh Malhar and Ragini Basanti

Miniature Paintings

Raga Megh Malhar and Ragini Basanti

Stamps on Indian miniature paintings

On 13 March 1996, the Department of Posts issued a set of four commemorative stamps on Indian Miniature Paintings, under the title ‘Ritu Rang’. They represent the four seasons – Vasant (spring), Greeshma (summer), Varsha (monsoon) and Hemant (winter). Each stamp is of Rs. 5 denomination, multi-coloured, with perf. 13.5. They were printed on Matt Chromo paper by photo offset process at Calcutta Security Printers Ltd.

Of these four, the stamp on Vasant is based on a ‘Ragamalika Painting’ on ragini Basanti which embodies the spirit of spring. The stamp on Varsha, the life-giving season of the monsoons, is expressed in a ragamalika painting of raga Megh Malhar. Only these two stamps come under ‘musical philately’. Along with the stamps, a First Day Cover was also issued. The cover as well as the cancellation was common to all the four stamps. The cover is not reproduced here.

The raga-ragini system

Long before the adoption of the ‘that’ system of classification of raga-s in Hindustani music, there existed a raga-ragini scheme of classification. Later, when miniature paintings started appearing in the 17th century, paintings of raga-ragini-s, known as ragamalika paintings came into being.

The raga-ragini scheme was in existence from the 14th century to the 18th century. Musicologists of the medieval period were responsible for inventing and popularising the concept poetically verbalised in the form of a dhyana sloka, and presented in a visual form as a painting. A musician is supposed to meditate upon this composite visual-verbal mode and derive inspiration for exposition of the raga. For example, raga Megh Malhar, associated with rains, is depicted in a very evocative language, and complemented with a miniature painting that translates the description in graphics.

In the raga-ragini system, some raga-s were denoted as male and some others as female. The masculine raga-s were portrayed as embodiment of wonder, courage and anger, while ragini-s – their feminine counterparts, were illustrated as personification of the feelings of love, laughter and sorrow. One author treated six raga-s as masculine, namely, Sree, Vasant, Bhairav, Panchama, Megh and Nat-Narayan. And each had six wives or ragini-s. The raga-ragini couples were even supposed to have putra-s or sons. Other authors had different notions of what constituted a male or female raga and, accordingly, their portrayal too varied. An interesting aspect to be noted is that the ‘related’ raga-s had very little or no similarity. Their concepts rested solely on the fanciful imaginations of the authors. Writers of later musical treatises wholly rejected the raga-ragini system as unscientific and irrational and formulated the ‘thaat’ system (parent scales) for the classification of raga-s, by drawing the fundamentals of raga formulation, relating their principal notes to thaat-s. They laid the foundation for the evolution of Hindustani music.

Even though the raga-ragini system ceased to exist long ago, it has bequeathed a delightful set of miniature ragamalika paintings, thus enriching our cultural heritage.

Miniature and ragamalika paintings

A miniature painting, as the name signifies, is an intricate, colorful painting, small in size, executed meticulously with delicate brushwork. India has a long and varied tradition of miniature paintings.

The evolution of Indian miniature paintings started some time in the 17th century. The art flourished under the Mughals, Muslim kings of the Deccan and Malwa as well as the Hindu rajas of Rajasthan. In fact the Mughals were responsible for introducing the Persian tradition in the miniature paintings of India. Miniature painters used varied substances for colouring their drawings – minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells, pure gold and silver.

There were four schools of Indian miniature paintings  Rajput, Mughal, Kangra and Pahadi. A Deccan school is also mentioned. The early miniatures depicted scenes from the courts of the Mughal emperors. Gradually they adopted various other themes. The charm of that style was enhanced by the representation of Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda, particularly in the Kangra style.

All aspects of life were touched upon. The themes of the paintings included the seasons and the modes of Hindustani music. Following the raga-ragini system, the artists created the ‘raga ragini paintings’. They conceived the raga as the nayaka, and the ragini as the nayika. The love pranks of the nayaka-nayika were translated into miniature paintings. They were often pictured as Hindu gods, Rajput princes and aristocratic ladies in their eternal love play. These paintings have very striking and interesting pictorial qualities and are aesthetically very appealing.

Of the four seasons, only two lend themselves to association with raga-s ragini-s and, accordingly, were depicted in painting. To quote the noted musician and author Deepak S. Raja: “Amongst the seasonal raga-s, only those associated with spring (Basant, Bahar) and the monsoons (Megh, Malhar and their compound – Megh Malhar) are clearly defined as “seasonal” raga-s. Other seasons do not have raga-s clearly associated with them  though some attempts have been made to attribute such associations to other raga-s. Spring and monsoon raga-s are essentially euphoric/ joyous romantic in their rasa. This has to do with the relief felt by people from the cruelty of the climate  spring provides relief from the severe winter (in northern India) and monsoons provide a relief from cruel summers (in northern India). Because these raga-s have very clear climatic associations, they are relatively easy to visualise, and this is why they find a pride of place in the ragamalika paintings. I believe there are ragamalika paintings covering several

other raga-s, which are not seasonal. But, their visualisations are more in the nature of an artist’s imagination of what rasa mood the raga conveys.” For the very valid reason Deepak Raja has mentioned, the Department of Posts selected only Ragini Basanti and Raga Megh Malhar (from among the numerous raga-ragini paintings) for issue of stamps under the Ritu Rang. The Music of India, authored by Shripada Bandopadhyaya and published by Taraporevala contains black and white reproductions of the following raga-ragini paintings: ragini-s Kedara, Devagandhari, Malasri, Gunakali, Poorvi, Lalita, Asavari, Bhairavi, Kamoda, Madhu-Madhavi, Kanahda, Bangali, Vilawal (Bilawal), Ramkali, Todi, Varatika (Varati), Gaudamalara, Dhanasree, Kakubha, Vasant, Patamanjari and raga-s Megh and Sree.

The painting on the stamp on Vasant (ragini Basanti) is in the Kangra style and that on the stamp on Varsha (raga Megh Malhar) in the Rajput style. These paintings can be seen in the original in the National Museum, New Delhi.