Desakhya Ragini, folio from a Ragamala series

Historical period(s)
ca. 1665
Central Indian School
Opaque watercolor on paper
Malwa style
H x W: 20.5 × 14.1 cm (8 1/16 × 5 9/16 in)
India, Madhya Pradesh state, Malwa
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, wrestling
Provenance research underway.

Painters in Malwa went further than any other school in their use of bold expanses of unmodulated color. In this composition, a semi-circle of red expands upwards towards a pitch-black sky. Silhouetted on the red ground that possibly represents a wrestling circle, the two pugilists stretch and joust. The floral oblong at the bottom, which appears in other manuscripts of similar style, such as the Amara Shataku romance,  perhaps indicates the style of a particular artist family or workshop. 

The musical mode of Deshakh (also written as Desakh, Deosakh and DevSakhya) is usually embodied in Rajasthani ragamalas as an acrobat, an athlete or a wrestler.  One Sanskrit couplet describes the mood of the raga as fierce and energetic: "With quick resounding slapping of body, hair (top knots) standing on end, long arms held back and checked (as in wrestling), tall, fierce... splendid as the moon -- (such is) Desakha Raga in the form of a wrestler"; another summarizes the mode as a "strong, bareheaded wrestler." In yet other verses, Deshakh is a brawny, beautiful and heroic woman. The melody is ideally played in the early part of the day during the rainy season.

Published References
  • Indian Miniature Paintings: Annual Exhibition. New York. no. 51.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
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