Ragamala paintings have a special significance in the world of art, which has not so far been fully realized. They not only display their own technique and art of colour and line but express, interpret and exhibit the soul/spirit and beauty of another art, the art of music, the art of svara-laya and cultivated/cultured voice.
Music was considered to be of divine origin and was supposed to possess the property of evoking an ecstatic state of mind or mood, called rasa-anubhuti, in the musician as well as the listener. This conception of rasa is the basis of all art in India. The Sadhakas (practitioners) of music devised some formulas in order to capture and comprehend the divine quality of music and to evoke rasa or brahmananda. These were formulated in the form of prayers in which the conceptual form, dhyana-murti, of the raga was described. Thus the ragas were personified or deified. This fact provided a rich and expressive theme to Indian painters and it has considerably enriched the art treasure of India.
Whether the dhyana-theory of ragas is scientific or otherwise it certainly furnished a rich source of theme for the Indian artists who painted some of the most charming and inspiring pictures representing the ragas (melodies). The two Ragamala MSS discovered in a Manuscripts collection at Jammu are a part of the extensive art treasure created all over India during the period from 16th to 19th centuries. The Jammu Ragamala paintings were done expressly with the usual object of depicting their dhyana-murtisor icons in order to create the relevant rasa situation in those looking at them. According to Dr. Charak, the analyzer of these sets, it is the background setting, the dhyana of the raga and mood of the nayikas or nayakas which animate the whole composition by providing scope for picturesqueness, fascinating use of colour, contours and the charm of variety and vigour, which are the chief features of the Jammu Ragamala paintings.
M. A. (History), M. A. (Political Science), Ph. D., D. Lit. (V. U. S.), Adeeb Fazil and a keen student of history, culture and art Dr. Charak has to his credit a large number of books on history and culture, including 8 volumes on History and Culture of Himalayan States, 2 annotated English translations of Persian historical works Gulabnama and Rajadarshani, Life and Times of Maharaja Ranbir Singh, A Short History of Jammu Raj, Indian Conquest of Himalayan Territories, Gen. Zorawar Singh (published by Govt. of India), and several others in addition to over 50 research papers. His studies in Pahari art for over 20 years have culmination in the book Pahari Styles of Indian Murals, which is introductory volume on the forthcoming comprehensive analysis of Documented Photo-preservation of Jammu Wall Paintings on which project he worked for five years as Emeritus Fellow of Jammu University. Also he was Senior Fellow of ICHR from 1977 to 1980. He has retired as Reader in Medieval History and Culture. Dr. Charak is a man of many parts and a thoughtful Urdu poet. His two collections of Urdu poetry, Abrobar and Saraktey Saey, have been published. His bio-data figures in many biographies, including Biography International, Reference India and Sahitya Akademi's Who's Who of Indan Writers.
The art of painting was introduced into Jammu Hills probably during the reign of Jahangir, and brisk activity in this field is recorded since the reign of Shahjahan. The main centers of miniature painting developed at Mankot, Basohli and Jammu. The earliest portrait of Raja Kirpal Dev of Bahu (Jammu). In Mankot Kalam has been assigned to circa 1660-70 A. D., and of Mahipat Dev of Mankot, to 1680. to the same decades belong the portraits of Raja Hari Dev and Raja Gaje Dev of Jammu. Basohli had particularly established a crowded atelier and even during the 17th century it produced hundreds of portraits and MS illustrations, the earliest being sets of Varahavatara and Devi as Durga, assigned to 1660-70 A. D., followed by painting of large MSS of Rasamanjari and Gita Goinda in 1695 and 1730 A. D. respectively. Thus almost a millennium years old art of manuscript painting, which had evolved in western India including Rajasthan and Gujarat, had reached Jammu hills during the second half of the seventeenth century. Akbar's atelier had produced a large number of illustrated manuscripts on Persian and Indian texts, some of which were really superb like those of Hamzanama and Razamnama (the Mahabharata). The illustrated manuscripts popularized the art and also set a norm for the Rajput courts in Rajasthan and Siwaliks where various schools of Pahari painting were coming into being. The illustrated manuscripts produced in the courts of Hill chiefs evinced both Indian and Mughal characteristics and presented a happy blending of these with the local or desi element. It was this mixed style which the hill princes of Jammu region patronised in miniature painting as well as text illustration. The earliest specimen available is that of Bhanudatta's Rasamanjari painted by the artist Devi Dasa in Basohli style in 1693-95 under the patronage of Raja Kirpal Pal Balaoria. Another set of paintings illustrating a Sanskrit manuscript, the Gita-Govinda of Jay Deva, was done in Basohli style by the painter Manku in 1730 under the patronage of Raja Medini Pal of Basohli.
The tradition of manuscript illustration set by these early painters may have continued afterwards at other centers of Dogra painting. We have two such series in the Jammu Museum of Dogra Art, one illustrating some Nayaka-Nayika text, and the other depicting various episodes of the Mahabharata leading to the revelation of the message of the Gita to Arjuna by Krishna. The later attempts belong to the Jammu Kalam of late 18th or early 19th century. Some specimens of manuscript illustrations in the Jammu Museum, though undated, may belong to the period of Gulab Singh and Ranbir Singh on stylistic grounds. However, the small paintings have since been removed from the texts and framed separately, nothing particular can be said about their sequence in the manuscript and the exact date of their production.
There are nevertheless a few illustrated manuscripts in the Ranbir Sanskrit Manuscripts collection in the Raghunath Temple, Jammu belonging to Ranbir Singh's reign. Two of these are Ragamala manuscripts, whereas three pertain to Bhagvadgita-mala and Gita-Pancharatni group. The Gita-Pancharatni and Gita-mala manuscripts represent the traditional style applied in religious subjects in western India and Rajasthan, particularly in Kashmir and Siwalik hill region. Stray paintings are inserted here and there throughout the manuscripts. A hand-made thick paper is used for paintings quite distinct from the paper used for the writing purposes. It seems that artists kept ready stock of such paintings for small manuscripts as were in demand and were bound in the manuscripts against the pages which referred to the theme of the painting. Artists might have also painted sets on series of themes on demand from the owners of the manuscripts. The themes are mostly mythological and from the Mahabharata, especially the episodes leading to the revelation of the gospel of the Bhagvadgita. The classical iconography of the deities has been followed which shows that the shastric conception of theology has once again found ardent votaries under the patronage of Ranbir Singh. The most popular theme for text illustration was the ten incarnations of Vishnu on which some special manuscripts were also prepared under the title Dashavatara or Dashavatara-Katha. two such manuscripts belonging to Ranbir Singh's period are in Sri Pratap Museum, Srinagar. One of them is in decadent Mughal style by some Muslim artist who seems to have been adept in depiction of nature in all the minute details. But the figure work is clumsy and disproportionate.
A Bhagvadgita-mala manuscript in Raghunath Temple Library depicts the opening episode of the Mahabharata, the Arjuna-vishad and other important episodes. The conception in some cases is lovely, as for example in depiction of Sesa-Sayi Vishnu and Gaj-vimochana. The use of contrasting colours and fluid line in depiction of figures is lovely and there is some effort to show depth or three-dimensional effect, which are characteristics of the later half of the 19th century. The effort at shading for depth reaches its perfection in another manuscript of Bhagvadgita-mala which depicts the ten incarnations of Vishnu in addition to some episodes concerning his eighth incarnation in the form of Krishna. The depiction of Varahavatara and Narasinhavatara is particularly perfect both from the point of view of iconography and art. The conception of depth of the perspective has been well-developed. Line is volatile and figure work is fine and naturalistic. The scenes are well balanced and conception of human, particularly female, beauty is ideals. It seems that the revivalistic style of manuscript illustration had reached its perfection under the patronage of Ranbir Singh.
A few albums of Ramayana were also prepared for them. New themes on astrology and Yogic and Tantric science had also got recognition in painting and sets on Navagrahas and Kundalini and Tantric occultism were also in demand. Some albums on the exploits of Durga were handed down by Jammu artists. Koka-sastra, a Kashmiri text on science of erotics, became popular in this region. The four kinds of men and four kinds of women described in this text with regard to their physical appearance and sex appeal, also found representation in line and colour. A set on this theme lies in the Jammu Museum.
However, the two Ragamala sets, which were in the Sanskrit Manuscripts collection attached to the famous Raghunath Temple Complex in Jammu, are of great interest for our purpose. We made a cursory study of these sets in the beginning little knowing then that our study will be the only proof of their existence at Jammu, since these are now missing from that collection. But luckily Dr. Charak had a second round of study of these MSS before their mysterious disappearance, and took some good photos, which have been reproduced in this book. The MSS are described below from the notes and observations recorded at the time of their availability.
One of the Ragamala manuscripts is of larger size and has been elaborately painted and lavishly decorated. The manuscript was prepared in 1873 A. D. according to the date inscribed on the title page by Pandit Raja Ram, probably the same author who wrote a general history of Punjab under the title Gulgasht-I-Panjab, dated A. D. 1849. On this manuscript, which is in State Archives, Patiala, the author gives his name as Raja Ram Tota. He seems to have been a dexterous calligraphist and has beautifully inscribed in black and white, alternating, his manuscript on Ragamala. The ground of the pages of the text is in various colours on which writing in black and white is surrounded by colour ink and liquid gold. Pages are surrounded by hashias covered by floral designs. The text carries a selected poem by famous Hindi poets like Surdas and Tulsidas to be sung in a particular Raga, written in black ink, each line followed by its Persian translation in prose and inscribed in white ink. Each Raga has its pictorial representation on the opposite page. The size of the manuscript is 9" x 11" and hence paintings are of a bit large-sized miniatures with a 1¼" hashia in pink, or light yellow, brown, blue or grey bearing all over its surface floral bushes in gold. Of the twenty-eight paintings in the manuscript some four or five on maru, sarang, megh and Bindrabani ragas have quite natural setting without any man-made element in it, with stylized, rocky hills in pink colour in the background topped by a few round trees in bluish green and a blue horizon. Ground is usually shown in brown o yellowish brown. Varieties of red, brown, grey and blue colours predominate. All the paintings present to the eye a pleasant feast of colours, not of primary colours as in Basohli painting, but of mixed hues of charming quality. The male and female figures of ragas and raginis have been carefully drawn having heavy faces, arched eyebrows, large almond-like eyes-all characteristic features of Jammu school. Females are attired in choli and ghaghra, the latter mostly in red with floral designs on it, a transparent spotted chunari and all the usual ornaments on wrist, neck, forehead and ears, worked in scintillating gold ink. Clouds are fringed with straks of gods. Threes and foliage slightly give a decorative touch. The floors of pavilions and flower beds have been provided with rich carpets with floral patterns. The small one or two room huts are invariably with coloured geometric and floral designs against walls. Figure work is net. Females are shown with heavy waists and plumpy bodies, a bit short in stature having characteristic Dogra features. Depiction of nature is also quite interesting and realistic. Horizon is usually shown covered with curling clouds over cluster of slightly stylized trees. In the depiction of Bindrabani ragini the characteristic kandi perspective with stony hillocks topped by trees of mango, jaman and thohar and other arid features have been brought together in such a way as to create a weird yet charming atmosphere for the Dogra nayika surrounded by peacocks.
The other Ragamala manuscript written in ordinary hand contains 28 paintings in small size measuring 4½ x 6½ inches. The scene of most of the ragas is laid in front of one or two room huts in white, decorated with geometrical patterns painted on the walls, and the mood of the ragas is usually represented by nayikas in groups of two, three or more afflicted by the characteristic emotion of a particular raga or ragini. in some ragas like nata-raga, hindol or Sri-raga a Dogra hero or nayaka is also present. The facial formula of the female figures in this set seems to have been influenced by Kangra or pre-Kangra Jammu idiom, although features remain mostly Dogra. The depiction of male figures is purely in Jammu style. Colours used are soft and sober and there is little of unnecessary embellishment. Sobriety of depiction, balance in line and colour and naturalness are the chief characteristics of the paintings in this manuscript which has been done in characteristic Jammu style. The style of this work differs from that of the other manuscript in the sense that facial Dogra features have been much emphasized in the latter wok. In spite of all this, this set suffers from monotony of figure work and evinces some poverty of imagination.
The miniatures in both the sets are unsigned. Although the name of calligraphist and composer of text of the Ragamala set 'A' is known but that of the painter is nowhere mentioned or hinted at. However, the date of the MS, 1873, reveals that it is the wok of some artist or artists of the group of painters of Maharaja Ranbir Singh' time. Local artists descending from those of Raja Balwant Singh's time (1724-1763), and the third and fourth generation of the famous painter of his court, Nain Sukh, may have painted for Ranbir Singh, but due to absence of signs and style admixture, their work can neither be singled out, nor the names of the painters can be ascertained except for a couple of them. But it is positively known that a certain family of Kangra painters headed by Nand Lal had migrated to Jammu, probably during Gulab Singh's reign. His two sons, Channu and Ruldu, and Hari Ram, the son of the former, were Ranbir Singh's contemporaries. Another artist, Narottam from Guler, was patronized by Raja Ram Singh, the second son of Ranbir Singh. Arjan and Kanchan were other two painters in Jammu atelier which Jagat Ram, nick-named Chhunia, joined later, probably during the last years of Ranbir Singh's reign. Hari Chand, however, was the main artist of this group who attracted a large number of apprentices, Jagat Ram from Bhado Kishanpur being one of them. Hari Chand grafted Kangra idiom/or revived pre-Kangra Jammu idiom to create a charming blending of the two styles. He possessed a very delicate brush and produced very fine specimens of this hybrid style. His paintings on Durga and Rama-Panchayat are a brilliant tribute to his art. The work is realistic and well-balanced. The faces in profile have Jammuite features handsomely designed with characteristic Jammu idiom. It seems that Ragamala paintings of MS 'A' were done by Hari Chand and his shagirds as the set very much resembles the signed paintings of Hari Chand in the collection of Jammu Museum. Paintings of MS 'B' are probably the work of late eighteenth century in the pre-Kangra Jammu style, either by Nain Sukh or his sons.
It was unfortunate that both the Manuscripts were lost before the study of these could be finalized and all processes of photography could be completed. All the paintings of these Ragamalas are, therefore, being reproduced in colour for record and further study by the art connoisseurs.
Jammu Kalam has since long been recognised by art connoisseurs as a separate and flourishing school of miniature painting. Great art critics like A.K. Coomaraswamy, W.G. Archer, Karl Khandalavala, have made valuable observations on Jammu Kalam, basing their study on various collections in India and abroad. Dr. M.S. Randhawa, J.C. Mittal, B. N. Goswami, M.R. Anand and others have also made casual but valuable observations on Jammu miniatures. In addition some novices have made fallacious re marks/conclusions on Jammu and Jasrota Kalam without making a visit to the art collection of Jammu Museum of Dogra Art (formerly Dogra Art Gallery Jammu) which houses about seven hundred miniatures. Except fifty Mughal portraits and about a dozen pieces of Kangra Kalam all the rest belong to Jammu and Basohli Kalams. A vast majority of these are on themes like Nayaka-Nayika-bheda (Basohli Rasamanjari), Ragamala, Pauranic legends and portraits of Dogra and Pahari rulers. But a full and scientific study of Jammu school of painting has not so far been made in the light of this rich collection. Although the present study is meant only to describe and analyse two Ragmala painting sets from Jammu tentatively assigned to Jammu Kalam, the same may prove to be the beginning of study of Jammu School.
I am indebted to Dr. A.K. Billawaria for writing a scholarly foreword for the monograph, giving a gist of the illustrated MSS of Jammu discovered by us including the two Ragamala sets discussed in this book. More than ten years ago both of us together made a thorough search for illustrated MSS in collections at Jammu and Srinagar during which we came across these two Ragmala sets, short papers about which were contributed by Dr. Billawaria in Jammu University Research Jounals, 1985 and 1988.
I am also thankful to Shakti Malik of Abhinav Publications for undertaking speedy publication of this study of the two rare Ragamala sets which have somehow disappeared from our soil.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend