This excellent painting, rendered using Kangra art idiom of Pahari art as it prevailed around 1780-90, a style revered world-over for its soft colours, fine line-work, delicate figures, elegance and grace, and perfect execution, represents Ragini Sorathi, the second consort of Raga Megh, one of the six principal ragas. This painting has sought to reproduce an earlier Kangra miniature representing Ragini Sorathi except its background which is more diversified. This earlier miniature, datable to around 1790-1800 AD, has a different pattern of trees including one on which perches a peahen, a different pattern of hills and a river also on the other side. The female figure personifying the Ragini Sorathi visually is trying to allure the peahen to come and meet its mate. In this contemporary version of the theme the peahen and the tree it is sitting on have been excluded, perhaps for better highlighting the maiden’s figure. It is only by the gesture of the figure’s hand that the presence of the peahen, as also the figure’s endeavour to allure it, has been suggested.
A musical mode seeking to give expression to a heart longing in love, Sorathi is essentially a ragini of ‘viraha’ – separation. Not an introvert melancholic face in pensive mood, Ragini Sorathi seeks expression, though gently, of its love-longing. As the related texts have it, Ragini Sorathi emanated from the chirping of a flock of cranes. This notion seems to have been largely responsible in developing the imagery of the Ragini Sorathi. In tune with cranes’ body colour, the maiden’s figure, personifying Ragini Sorathi, was conceived as ivory-like pure white, brighter than lightening, bejewelled in lavish brilliant ornaments and clad in costume with exceptionally bright colours. Its notes are sweet, alluring and gentle, and pitch, low.
The maiden personifying Ragini Sorathi had essentially associated with her figure a pair of birds, cranes or a peacock and a peahen that she fed, cajoled or tried to unite them. Accordingly the imagery of Ragini Sorathi varied. It sometimes had a pair of cranes alighting on the maiden’s palatial terrace where assisted by an aide she fed them with a bowl of gold, and sometimes she sat in her golden chair with a crane in her lap. In some manifestations she had a pair of peacocks sporting with her, while in yet another, as in this miniature and in its earlier model, she had a peacock in her lap, and another, on a close-by tree, and she allured the one on the tree to come and unite with its mate by offering it food.
This miniature manifests Ragini Sorathi as a youthful maiden with a figure as if carved out of a piece of ivory, the same body colour, finish, lustre and elegance. She sits on a full blooming lotus which too has ivory-like touch. Clad in rich brilliant costume and wearing ornaments inlaid with precious stones of various colours she has a form conforming to the norms of the standard iconography of Ragini Sorathi. With her right hand the maiden is holding dearly a peacock in her lap. The peahen is not visible; however, from the gesture of her extended left hand the bird’s presence and the maiden’s endeavour to allure it becomes obvious. Instead of distant and low-height trees of its earlier model, in this version the maiden personifying Ragini Sorathi is portrayed as seated under a tall tree with fully blooming Mallika creeper riding it. Mallika creeper is a new element added to the visualisation of the Ragini. It is the creeper of hope which one encounters when in separation suggesting that the love-longing heart would surely meet the loved one, the central sentiment of Ragini Sorathi.
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.
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