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5. Illustration to a Ragamala series: Todi Ragini
Provincial Mughal
18th century
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Image: 7 ⅛ x 4 ⅞ in. (18.1 x 12.4 cm.)
Folio: 13 x 10 in. (33 x 25.4 cm.)
Illustration to a Ragamala series: Todi Ragini

Provenance:
Private British collection.
Christie’s South Kensington, 1 October 2012, lot 97.

Ragas are melodies that serve as templates for improvisation within the ancient classification system of Indian music. While each melody has a certain structure, there are infinite songs that can be produced within each mold. Ragamala (or ‘Garland of Melody’) paintings aim to capture each melody’s mood or sentiment into visual forms, which are categorized into thirty-six male and female personifications—ragas and raginis, respectively. Often focused around ‘love in union’ and ‘love in separation,’ each painting is meant to evoke the feeling or color of the melody rather than a specific narrative, and they are often associated with particular seasons, regions, and times of day.

The present painting depicts Todi Ragini, which is believed to be a song sung by village girls while guarding the ripening fields against deer. The melody is said to enchant the deer, preventing them from feeding on the village crops (Ebeling, 60). Here, Todi Ragini is depicted as a lonely nayika who plays her veena in the forest, surrounded by deer who listen to her song. Expressing the tender longing of separated lovers, the deer that flock to her serve to underscore the woman’s isolation as she plays her somber tune. The flowing green grass, blooming lotus flowers, and brilliant golden sky are meant to evoke the mood of a spring morning, “as the sun’s rays have lit the earth at dawn,” at which time the Todi Ragini is meant to be played. Compare to another Todi Ragini folio circa 1725 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (acc. 1977-12-1).

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