In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rāgamālā

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches
  • Histories of the Rāga and Rāgamālā
  • Historiography
  • Music, Culture, and the Rāgamālā

Hinduism Rāgamālā
Preeti Bahadur Ramaswami
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0254


One of the most abiding and popular themes of Indian courtly miniature painting, the rāgamālā refers on the one hand to the personification of Indian melodic modes, rāgas, as heroes and heroines (nāyaka-nāyikā), and on the other to their systematic grouping into families strung together as in a garland, ‘mālā’. Rāgas were personified initially as deities and then as “secular” beings, and placed in familial groups headed by a male rāga together with his consorts (rāginīs) and sometimes sons and daughters-in-law as well. As a genre, the rāgamālā embraced several media—music, painting, and verses—and brought them into varying degrees of engagement with each other. Its genesis, however, lay in the development of the rāga as a musical entity. The rāga emerged as the dominant musical mode by the 10th century, gradually eclipsing others that preceded it. Its defining characteristic was seen as its ability to create an aesthetic mood, and “color the mind” through a combination of notes. Each rāga was believed to have particular musical and aesthetic ethos, which led to the accrual of extramusical associations around them. It was this that led to development of the concept of the rāgamālā, capturing rāgas as cultural symbols. The theme grew to be popular with nearly every school of miniature painting in India, from the 15th century onward till as late as the 19th century. Rāgamālā conceits mark an appearance in Sanskrit treatises on music by the 13th century, following the gradual emergence of rāga within this literature as the predominant musical mode. By the 17th century the number of rāgas had proliferated, and the rāgamālā as a theme had made its way into musical as well as nonmusical treatises written in Persian and the vernaculars. The pictorialization of the rāgamālā into painted albums was a complex process, and has for long confounded scholarship. Early-20th-century scholarship focused on iconography, and the relationship of painted imagery with textual sources, as a way of unraveling this process. This early bias shaped the discourse in this field for a surprisingly long period. A dependence on treatises in Sanskrit marked the rāgamālā to be a “Hindu” theme. Further, the focus on iconography led to the elision of other concerns, most significantly, an understanding of musical contexts that gave the rāgamālā such popularity as a theme. Recent scholarship, particularly 21st-century literature, has turned to the role of the rāgamālā within changing social contexts of rāga music, highlighting the place of Indo-Islamic courtly circles in promoting this genre. Painted representations have also been seen, in recent scholarship, to have had a life independent of written treatises.


Within modern scholarship, the rāgamālā has been marked as an interdisciplinary domain, bringing the disciplines of art history and musicology together. In many ways this field’s trans-disciplinarity is most fully addressed in early-20th-century Indological scholarship, which shaped its discourse. Beyond this literature, there are few overviews that comprehensively interweave visual, musical, and textual histories. This fact serves, in many ways, as a pointer to the challenges of this area. Gangoly 1989 is the first volume of a pioneering Indologist’s two-volume study of the rāgamālā. The first volume is an in-depth examination of literary and textual sources for the study of the rāgamālā, including verses inscribed on rāgamālā paintings. The second volume (Gangoly 1935), rarely available, collates and identifies rāgamālā miniatures from several museum and private collections, defining the field. Ebeling 1973 is a mammoth undertaking, providing the most comprehensive survey of rāgamālā miniatures scattered in collections across museums and private collections, following Gangoly’s work. It is also a comprehensive and systematic analysis of textual and visual traditions of the rāgamālā, mapping the two against one another, but focusing on painted traditions. Beyond these two extensive surveys of the field, combining inventories of visual and textual material with scholarly analysis, are overview articles that offer points of entry into the field. Grieg 2000 (cited under Interdisciplinary Approaches) is an article in an encyclopedia on world music. Dallapiccola 2011 is an introductory essay to a catalogue devoted to rāgamālā miniatures.

  • Dallapiccola, Anna L. “Rāgamālā Painting: A Brief Introduction.” In Rāgamala: Paintings from India from the Claudio Moscatelli Collection. Edited by Catherine Ann Glynn, Robert Skelton, and Anna L. Dallapiccola, 13–21. London: Philip Wilson, 2011.

    Offers an updated and compelling introduction to the rāgamālā, its trajectory, growth, and spread. Encapsulates recent approaches to the rāgamālā, particularly on the movement and dynamics of texts and paintings.

  • Ebeling, Klaus. Rāgamala Painting. Basel, Switzerland: Ravi Kumar, 1973.

    Provides a systematic and schematic overview of classification systems and verse traditions, mapping their sources and spheres of influence on painting traditions. Was the first to identify one of the systems, followed in pictorial rāgamālās but not contained in textual sources, as the “Painters System.” The combination of introductory essays on rāgamālā painting and literature, and the detailed inventory and analysis make it useful both for researchers and graduate students.

  • Gangoly, O. C. Rāgas and Raginis. Vol. 2. Calcutta: n.p., 1935.

    Originally printed in an edition of thirty-six, and later of fifty, this volume is devoted to pictorial traditions of the rāgamālā. It is a gargantuan exercise in collating and identifying dispersed rāgamālā folios, and translating verses inscribed on them. This is a rare publication.

  • Gangoly, O. C. Rāgas and Rāginis: A Pictorial and Iconographic Study of Indian Modes Based on Original Sources. Vol. 1. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1989.

    Earliest scholarly publication (original 1935) on the rāgamālā in paintings and musicological treatises, in two separate volumes. This first volume traces the development of the rāgamālā within canonical treatises on music, exhaustively identifying them with copious references to manuscript collections and resources. Its most valuable contribution are charts that map nearly all known rāga families. Provides also the most extensively researched chapter on the poetry of rāga verses, extracted from paintings and treatises.

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