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Deśī Rāgas in Courtly Texts : The Case of a Sixteenth Century Rāgamālā Treatise.


· Ayesha Sheth University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, United States of America)


07/26 | 15:50-16:10 UTC+2/CEST


Present-day scholarship understands rāga as having musical, visual, and aesthetic embodiments that together constitute its performance. Saṅgītaśāstras, technical texts on music, written in the early second millennium have attributed to rāga gender, sartorial characteristics, seasons, mood etc. in poetic verse. In the fifteenth century these descriptors gave rise to a new genre of miniature painting — the rāgamāla — which became an integral part of courtly musicological connoisseurship. I focus on a late sixteenth-century rāgamālā text to examine how regional aesthetic idioms were ‘performed’ within courtly registers. I employ a capacious understanding of ‘performance’ to include visual forms such as the rāgamālā painting, in addition to music and dance. Around 1570 CE, the scholar Ksemakarna composed a Sanskrit rāgamālā text at the court of Raja Ram Chand at Rewa. Titled ‘Rāgamālā’, Ksemakarna’s text presented a system of rāga visualisation distinctly different from other extant systems, namely that of Hanuman, Kallinatha and Somesvara. In addition to an alternate visualisation, the ‘Rāgamālā’ offered an arrangement of eighty four melodic modes (one male rāga accompanied by five female rāginīs and eight male sons or rāgaputras) in contrast to the prevalent system of thirty-six (one male rāga accompanied by five female rāginīs). My essay uses specific examples from the ‘Rāgamālā’ to carry out a two-part analysis. First, to examine the ways in which ‘local’ aesthetic idioms were incorporated to fit the dominant structure of rāgamālā visualisations. Second, to examine how textual knowledge was interpreted to produce locally legible ‘performances’ of the rāga.