Illustration from a Ragamala Series: Goda Putra of Megha

Punjab Hills, Kangra
circa 1780-90
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Folio: 9 ½ by 6 5/8 in. (24.2 by 16.7 cm)
Image: 8 1/8 by 5 1/8 in. (20.7 by 13.2 cm)
Verso inscribed in Devanagari

Alma Latifi Collection, 1920s (by repute)

Under Sansar Chand, (r. 1775-1823) not only did the kingdom of Kangra grow in prosperity and influence, but also it developed as a major center of artistic production. Some of the most talented artists from Guler were lured to Kangra by the promise of wealthy patronage, and many sets of remarkable images were produced there. A shift in geography was clearly inspiring for these painters. Their Kangra folios reflect a distinct softening in landscape based on geographic differences, a more dynamic sense of movement, and a realistic quality not seen before.

Although identified by inscription as Goda Putra of Megha, the figure in this ragamala more closely resembles Rama. Seated near an undulating riverbank on an antelope hide, the deity raises his bow and arrow.  The container of quills and sword next to him, as well as the animal skin wrapped around his legs, call to mind to Rama’s hunting prowess. He aims, from behind the cover of lush trees, at a deer who runs away while looking furtively behind him, having sensed imminent danger. In this striking composition, the sparseness of foliage focuses attention on the tense energy between hunter and prey.  What flora and fauna there is has been painted in the same naturalistic style for which Sansar Chand’s Kangra artists are known. Each leaf and blossom has been beautifully delineated under a pink-clouded sky.  Additional pages from this series, framed by the same red and blue borders, are known.

A ragamala, translated from Sanskrit as "garland of ragas," is a series of paintings depicting a range of musical melodies known as ragas.  Its root word, raga, means color, mood, and delight, and the depiction of these moods was a favored subject in later Indian court paintings.  The celebration of music in painting is a distinctly Indian preoccupation. Ragamalas were first identified as a specific painting genre in the second half of the fifteenth century, but their ancestry can be traced to the fifth- to seventh-century Brihaddeshi treatise, which states: "A raga is called by the learned that kind of composition which is adorned with musical notes . . . which have the effect of coloring the hearts of men."  Often, the mood, or raga, is also written as poetry on the margins of the painting. These works thus evocatively express the intersections of painting, poetry, and music in Indian court art.

The unifying subject of a ragamala is love, which is evoked as a range of specific emotions (rasa) that have a corresponding musical form.  In paintings these are typically the trials and passions of lovers, which are explored in both sound (raga) and analogous imagery, with a raga generally understood to denote the male protagonist and a ragini the female. These musical modes are also linked to six seasons—summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter, and spring—and times of the day, dawn, dusk, night, and so on.