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Art of the past: Raga Malkaunsa miniature

First of a six-part series featuring treasures of National Museum, Delhi.

Photo: Courtesy National Museum, Delhi.
Photo: Courtesy National Museum, Delhi.

What: The painting is part of a ragamala (garland of ragas), a series of miniature paintings that visually depict a raga, accompanied by a poetic inscription which invokes its mood, thereby bringing art, music and poetry together.

Style: It uses a reverse perspective, where objects that are further away are bigger and the vanishing point—where converging lines in a work meet—lies where the viewer is, not inside the painting. This has the welcome effect of making us participants in the unfolding scene. On closer inspection, the colours dazzle, especially the luminous Indian yellow—believed to have been made with the urine of cows fed on mango leaves. The detail in the limited space is astonishing, from the short patterned lines that form the tree leaves to the rich floral pattern on the saris.

Look closer: The pigments remain bright, almost three centuries on; historically, these were never displayed, being kept in a book with similar folios. The figure seated to the left in the foreground is a rare depiction of a kinnara, beings in Indian mythology who are half-man, half-horse.

This is the first in a six-part series introducing our picks of antique art and sculpture from the National Museum, Delhi.

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