Search

Indian paintings depicting music visually evoke aspects of specific modes called ragas. The word raga is derived from the Sanskrit root ranj, which means “to color”—use of the word here implies that the affective emotional qualities of music are just as important as the notes used in a particular mode. Performers aim to generate these feelings and associated qualities of a raga within members of their audiences. During the sixteenth century, poets and painters in India developed metaphors, narrative episodes, and a vocabulary of visual cues to convey the deep emotional content as well as other aspects associated with each raga. Paintings of these modes are called ragamalas, literally “garland of ragas,” because they were made in sets organized in a specific sequence. The idea that both performed music and paintings can generate similar effects is based in the classical Indian theory of aesthetics where the rasa, or “flavor,” of a musical rendition or work of art is to be experienced as an emotional response. Listening to or performing the appropriate raga when viewing these paintings also builds a musical memory linked to the visual vocabulary of ragamala paintings. Poetry describing the imagery associated with specific ragas, often including modal and performance information necessary for musicians, is inscribed above many paintings. When sung in the raga depicted, this poetry reinforces the musical memory.