Shankarabharana Ragaputra, folio from a <em<Ragamala

Historical period(s)
ca. 1680-1690
Bilaspur school
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H x W (painting): 21.6 × 15.2 cm (8 1/2 × 6 in) H x W (overall): 26.1 × 19.7 cm (10 1/4 × 7 3/4 in)
India, Himachal Pradesh state, Bilaspur
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


fountain, India, man, pavilion, ragamala, Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection
Provenance research underway.

Verso: “Sri raga Sankarbharana” 6 6 in Takri
Cover sheet: Stamp of the Mandi royal inventory with the number 2306


Ragamala series were popular in the Pahari hill kingdom of Bilaspur. This folio from the large dispersed Bilaspur ragamala was likely based on the verses of Mesakarna, a sixteenth-century priest from Rewa. 

The Sanskrit name of the raga, Shankarabharanam, means the ornament of Shiva. In this boldly colored ragamala folio from Bilaspur, two priests worship a Shiva Lingam within a temple's inner sanctum. On the right, a priest in a lavender dhoti lustrates the lingam by pouring water from a silver ewer, and the priest on the left bears a plate with offerings. The composition's symmetry and two dimensionality are common features of Bilaspur painting in its earliest phase at the end of the seventeenth century. The architectural structure, which is represented frontally and two-dimensionally, appears to be a fairly small shrine, particularly in relation to the height of the priests. However, its elaborate roof, which is topped with an amalika (ridged capstone) and finial, as well as the detail with which the relief carvings are rendered, indicate that it is a stone temple of the north Indian type.

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 centuries 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. Ragamala treatises classify the raga as the son of Megha raga but differently identify its ideal performance time as dawn or noon.

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.

The name of the mode, Shankharabharana(m), is more common in Carnatic music; it is musically equivalent to Bilaval in the Hindustani system.

Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
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