Bangali Ragini

Historical period(s)
ca. 1630
Marwar school
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H x W (painting): 21 × 14.3 cm (8 1/4 × 5 5/8 in) H x W (overall): 26.7 × 18.8 cm (10 1/2 × 7 3/8 in)
India, Rajasthan state, Marwar
Credit Line
Purchase and partial gift from the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection — funds provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


boy, cheetah, India, ragamala, Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection, temple

Sale, London, Sotheby’s, Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures, October 12, 1990, lot 41: “Bangali ragini: a girl dressed as an ascetic crouches on a stool before a shrine to the god Vishnu, a cheetah within the shrine, the roof decorated with elephants and faces” [1]

From 1990 to 2018
Ralph (1914-2001) and Catherine Glynn Benkaim, Beverly Hills, California, purchased at auction, London, Sotheby’s, “Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures,” October 12, 1990, lot no. 41: “Bangali ragini: a girl dressed as an ascetic crouches on a stool before a shrine to the god Vishnu, a cheetah within the shrine, the roof decorated with elephants and faces.”

From 2018
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, partial gift and purchase from Catherine Glynn Benkaim [2]


[1] See auction catalogue from Sotheby’s, London. Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures, October 12, 1990, lot 41.

[2] See Acquisition Consideration Form, copy in object file, Collections Management Office.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Ralph (1914-2001) and Catherine Benkaim
Catherine Glynn Benkaim


Verso: 18 (in pencil)
Recto: Ragini Bangalo [followed by an unclear word]


Enigmatic in the extreme, this painting depicts a hunting cheetah sitting squarely in the inner sanctum of a sandstone temple. To the left of the temple, a beautiful youth wearing a sacred thread worships a small icon of Vishnu. The young man may be a prince because he wears the pearl and ruby earrings that came into style during the reign of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, and the cheetah may be his.

The image embodies the musical mode of Vangala, which is meant to be sung in the morning in the autumn season. It is described in a verse from a ca. 1605 Marwar painting as a beautiful young man singing a sacred hymn:

His body is decorated with a beautiful string of grass. He wears the skin of a young foe. He is a vigorous youth. His body shines with the brilliance of gold. He sings the sacred hymn, Vangala.

Raga (Sanskrit, color or passion) is the term for a classical music mode, a set framework for improvisation. Having originated in the first millennium, ragas were systematized and classified during the thirteenth through sixteenth century, they were classified into ragamalas, meaning garlands of musical modes. A common system recognized six raga husbands, each "married" to five ragini wives for a total of thirty-six "families." Families of musical modes sometimes included sons or ragaputras as well. By the fifteenth century, ragas had become associated with specific moods, times, seasons, affective properties, deities, lovers, and heroes. Around 1590-1620, illustrated ragamala series became a favorite subject for Rajput patrons, as well as for some Mughals, such as Abd-ur Rahim, patron of the Freer Ramayana and the Laud Ragamala. Specific iconographies were developed for depicting each mode. These formulae lent themselves to variations, which were sometimes dependent on region.

Illustrated ragas evoke mood and engender feeling, as do musical compositions. But the connection seems to be indirect. Although some connoisseurs of music may have internally "heard" a composition when viewing its image, ragamalas were probably more broadly valued for their poetic and pictorial pleasures. The commission of a ragamala series would also have been understood as a sign of a patron's cultivated sensibility.

Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
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