Raga Dipaka has more myths associated with it than has any other Raga, not even Bhairava that is believed to emanate direct from the throat of Lord Shiva. It is commonly believed that when the Raga Dipaka was sung even in its less potential form, lamps were automatically lit. Though a mere exaggeration, it is said that some kings during early days patronised talented singers who, besides entertaining them, used to sing Raga Dipaka every evening with which all lamps were simultaneously lit. Miyan Tansen’s myth is widely known and believed. As the tradition has it, once Akbar forced him to give a performance under the discipline of Dipaka Raga. Indeed a challenging job, Tansen descended into the waters of Yamuna and began singing. As soon as the notes began ascending, corresponding to the rise of pitch the waters of Yamuna began boiling. Unable to withstand the heat that the intensity of the Raga generated Tansen threw off his clothes and nude and semi-unconscious he whirled like an insect caught in a fire. A repentant Akbar saw all this but could not help it. Right then a young maiden, an accomplished musician otherwise, happened to come. She performed Raga Megh-Malhar which brought torrential rains, the heat was subdued and Tansen’s body was finally cooled.
Adhering to the tradition of visual vocabulary of Ragas, the painting has visualised Raga Dipaka in the form of a prince riding an elephant and carrying in his left hand a ‘dipaka’ – a lighted earthen lamp. In some texts the elephant is said to be white and thus linked with Indra’s elephant Airavata, and accordingly, the prince, with Indra. The imagery used for portraying the theme has exceptional symbolic dimensions. The elephant that the prince is riding, holding a lamp on the tip of its trunk and galloping horse-like quite speedily, is symbolic of the Raga Dipaka’s intensity and the prince is required to command it by himself without a mahout. The lamp that he is upholding in front of him like a flag and the elephant-goad with many tines held in his right hand reveal his determination to control the elephant, symbolically, the Raga. He has already put off his upper garment for making the heat bearable. An attendant with chowri is doing his best to cool him but without success for, as suggests its colour, the entire background has transformed into an endless heap of fire.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.