Desavarati Ragini

Historical period(s)
ca. 1630
probably Marwar school
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H x W (painting): 16.8 × 14.6 cm (6 5/8 × 5 3/4 in) H x W (overall): 19.7 × 16.5 cm (7 3/4 × 6 1/2 in)
India, Rajasthan state, probably 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


India, ragamala, Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection, woman

To 1967
Nowlakah, Calcutta [1]

From 1967 to 2001
Ralph Benkaim (1914-2001), purchased from Nowlakah, Calcutta in December 1967 [2]

From 2001 to 2018
Catherine Glynn Benkaim, Beverly Hills, California, by inheritance from Ralph Benkaim in 2001

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


[1] Ralph Benkaim purchased the painting from Nowlakah, a dealer based in Calcutta, in December 1967, several years before Indian paintings were classified as antiquities by the Indian government, according to his personal records, as relayed by Catherine Glynn Benkaim.

[2] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

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


Recto: devanagari script in the top yellow panel which cannot be read because the painting has been trimmed; …? barada bhav…? (...? Barada/Varada [also called Desvarati])
Verso: inscription in devanagari on the top. Possibly incomplete because number 2 is written which
desivara ki ragani dipaga [dipak] raga ri 2
Ragini Desvarati [wife] of Dipak Raga [second verse?] 2


Desavarati ragini is embodied as a woman who arches her back while raising her arms over head. The posture, which Molly Emma Aitken has identified as India's "aesthetic icon of the perfectly beautiful woman...." is first seen on the gateways of the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi (1st century BCE) and subsequently and ubiquitously on temples, textiles, ivories and paintings signifying auspiciousness and divine blessings.

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 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.

Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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