By Alex Oxborough
Brighton and Hove Museum & Art Gallery is hosting England’s first ever exhibition of Indian ragamala paintings. The exhibition is timed to coincide with both Diwali, the Hindu festival of light that was celebrated this year on the 26th October, and the 90th Anniversary of Brighton’s India Gate.
Ragamala are miniatures painted under royal patronage between the 15th and 19th Centuries across India. Their subject matter is loosely inspired by music. Translated literally, ragamala means ‘garland of melodies’. The melodies, or ragas, are intended to invoke an emotional response in the listener, commonly melancholia or devotion. In late medieval India these melodies were vividly described in poetry, which provided the inspiration for ragamala paintings.
While the inspiration for the paintings is a complex art form, the miniatures themselves are easier to appreciate. Depicting scenes as varied as pining lovers in flower-filled courtyards and travelling gymnasts plying their trade, the paintings are rare insights into the domestic life of the royal courts of the Mughal Empire.
Painted on paper, and originally intended to be passed around at social gatherings, the paintings are important survivors. Exhibition visitor Simone Smith, of Orpington, Kent, said: “They are overwhelming, such beautiful artistic work, the detail, including the colouration and pigments are extraordinary. I don’t know how they have survived when textiles haven’t”.
Brighton could be seen as a fitting location for such an exhibition. It was arguably the recreation of Brighton Pavilion into an Indian-inspired palace by the Prince Regent, later George IV, which announced the beginning of Britain’s colonialist ambitions in India. It is a noticeable omission then, that the role of British colonialism in the terminal decline of the art form is not mentioned.
In addition to the 24 ragamala paintings taken from the collection of Claudio Moscatelli which form the core of the exhibition, a number of Indian miniatures from the collection of Brighton and Hove Museum & Art Gallery feature as well as works created in response to the ragamala paintings by children from the Brighton and Hove Young Carers Project.
Ragamala: Paintings from India is on at Brighton and Hove Museum and Art Gallery until the 8th January 2012 and admission is free.