The 'ragamala' is a linked series of paintings based on the classical Indian musical form of the 'raga'. This richly sensual gouache is a classic of the genre, part of an early 'ragamala' from a princely state in the Punjab foothills of the Himalayas. The Basohli school, named after the region in which it flourished, specialised in poetic and lyrical subjects such as this: a pair of courtly lovers in a garden setting. Their tryst is set against a stylised and theatrical background of flaming orange, a colour favoured in Basohli practice. The aristocratic musician plays the 'vina', a traditional stringed instrument, while his consort offers him a betel leaf concoction. The sumptuous effect has been heightened with minute fragments of insect wings on the costumes.
Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg. 293.
Within a flaming orange and smouldering yellow frame, two lovers totally concentrate on each other, the intensity of their absorption hypnotic. The young hero ('nayaka'), seated cross-legged on the 'chowkis' platform, is dressed in a long, pleated white 'jama' with a broad side sash, a turban adorned with feathers and pearl strings, and anointed with aromatic paste, various pendants and jewellery. The heroine ('nayika') wears a diaphanous, full-length muslin outer garment known as 'peshwaj' colourfully striped brocade trousers, and a finely woven 'odhni' dropping naturally from her head. Her palms and fingers are dyed red in henna and she is lavishly bejewelled. The jewellery of both lovers is copiously studded with glowing iridescent fragments of beetle wing, which enhances the luxurious aura of the scene. He plays the 'rabab' with a plectrum while she offers him some 'paan', the popular refreshment of a betel leaf wrapped around a mix of lime, spices crushed areca nut and condiments. The painting is an icon to the joys of love ('sringara'), a dominant theme of ragas, and an outstanding example of the Basohli style of painting.
Basohli was a small fortress town in the Punjab hills in northern India. The various hill states were ruled by Rajput princes belonging to the aristocratic 'kshatriya' caste. The painting of this region, produced in the court ateliers of the various hill states, is referred to as Punjab Hills, or Pahari, painting. The beginnings of Pahari painting can be traced to the state of Basohli during the reign of Raja Kirpal Pal (1678-1695). This strikingly beautiful painting, from a recently discovered ragamala series, can be dated to between 1707 and 1715, on the basis of costume details, thus placing its production in the court atelier of Kirpal Pal's equally cultivated and admired son, Dhiraj Pal (1695-1725) (Tandan, 1983), and making it a significant document in our growing understanding of early Pahari painting.
Jackie Menzies, 'Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art', AGNSW, 1997. pg. 294-296.
opaque watercolour with gold on paper
16.4 x 16.6 cm image; 19.5 x 19.0 cm sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust 1992
Not on display
Shown in 5 exhibitions
Great gifts, great patrons, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Aug 1994–19 Oct 1994
Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jun 1997–24 Aug 1997
Indian Painting, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Apr 2001–11 Jun 2001
Intimate Encounters: Indian paintings from Australian collections, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Feb 2007–04 May 2007
Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–2019
Referenced in 14 publications
Edmund Capon, Orientations, 'Asian Collections in the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 76-79, Hong Kong, Sep 2000, 79 (colour illus.). fig.5
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian Collection: South Asia', pg. 288-297, Sydney, 1999, 293 (colour illus.).
Jackie Menzies, Art Gallery of New South Wales Annual Report 1992 [for the year ended 30 June 1992], 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1992, cover (illus.).
Jackie Menzies, TAASA Review, " Art Gallery of New South Wales", Sydney, Mar 1998, 10 (colour illus.).
Jackie Menzies, AGNSW Collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 179 (colour illus.).
Haema Sivanesan, Indian painting, 'Indian Painting', verso of poster., Sydney, 2001. cat.no. 2.6
Yvonne Tan, Asian Art Newspaper, 'Intimate Encounters, Indian Paintings from Australian Collections', London, Apr 2008, 12(illus).
Judith White (Editor), Look, Melbourne, Aug 2000, 13 (colour illus.). Information for Asian Art course.
Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Mughals and Maharajas: The Miniature Paintings of Courtly India', Sydney, 2003, 13 (colour illus.), 40 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on page 13 is a detail of this work.
Unknown, Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art, Sydney, 1997, 294, 295 (colour illus.), 296. cat.no. 192 See 'Further Information' for text.
Unknown (Editor), Look, 'Focus on India', pg. 31, Sydney, Feb 2004, 31 (colour illus.).
Unknown (Editor), Look, Sydney, Mar 2012, 43 (colour illus.).
Indian Miniatures and Company School Paintings. The Collection of Baron and Baroness Bachofen von Echt, London, 29 Apr 1992, 32, 33 (colour illus.). lot 11
Pahari Ragamalas, Bangalore, 1983. fig.no. 12