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9. Illustration to a Ragamala series: Tilangi Ragini
circa 1800
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Image: 9 x 6 ½ in. (22.9 x 16.5 cm.)
Folio: 10 ¾ x 8 in. (27.3 x 20.3 cm.)
Illustration to a Ragamala series: Tilangi Ragini

Private English collection.

The following ragamala painting is based on Mesakarna’s system of ragamalas, rather than the more prevalent Rajasthani and ‘Painter’s’ systems of ragamala painting. This system is based on the 1570 A.D. manuscript entitled Ragamala, written by Mesakarna, a court priest from Rewa. The first half of the manuscript describes each musical mode as a personality, while the second half relates them to a sound in nature or in the household—whether it be the sound of a barking dog, fire and wind, or churning butter. This became the exclusive system of ragamala painting in the Pahari Hills, from where these manuscripts hail. In his book entitled Ragamala Painting, Klaus Ebeling explains how the visual system developed in the Pahari Hills:
Their painters established by visual example, and by copying each other’s paintings, an iconographic tradition based on a curious mixture of both series of Mesakarna’s verses, frequent wordplays around the name of the raga itself, and a number of unexplainable iconographies (64).

The present painting depicts Tilangi Ragini, described by Mesakarna in the first half of his manuscript as “A woman with beautiful lips, voice, dress and flower garland, in the company of girls and fanned with a yak hair whisk” (verse no. 41), and in his second half as akin to a “grindstone and iron” (verse no. 107). While this is not always the case with ragamalas, the present painting follows Mesakarna’s text to a T. Seated against a large bolster cushion, Tilangi is shown taking a flower ornament from her companion. Two other women keep busy stringing flowers into garlands which they offer up to her. Combining both halves of Mesakarna’s text into one image, the artist also depicts two men in the background, sharpening a sword on a circular grindstone.

Ebeling, Klaus, Ragamala Painting, Ravi Kumar, 1973.

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