Gallery Write-up: “Ragamala: Picturing Sound” @ The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Ragamala is an Indian style of painting that exists specifically to celebrate music. As described by the exhibition itself, this unique genre of painting uses its musical themes to celebrate love. Ragamala is Sanskrit for “garland of ragas,” raga meaning color, mood, and delight. These paintings exemplify the core of the arts of India, a place that deeply regards both music and love.
Most ragamala depict the passions of lovers and their trials in rich, beautiful colors. Sound and metaphor help the paintings tell their stories of the male raga and the female ragani. The music depicted is also associated closely with the subcontinent’s six seasons, which include summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter, and spring, as well as the times of day.
Ragamala were typically to be found–as far back as the fifth- to seventh-century–amongst inner circles of the courts of India. Courtiers and guests enjoyed viewing the paintings, which were sometimes even painted as grand murals in the private quarters of palaces.
Analyzing images of poetry and music such as these, it’s easy to see from where Indian philosophy finds its roots. The bright colors and romantic themes typically forge a very positive feeling in the viewer. In fact it seems perfectly logical that the musically-inclined features of Bollywood would come from the society that has been creating such works for centuries. The romanticism found within its art runs so deep that it influences India’s very culture, down to the roots of its political landscape.
Attunement with the natural cycles of things–day and night, winter and summer, the rhythm of music, the cadence of poetry–flows beautifully within these ancient pieces of art. Each tells a rich story of its own.

1. “Ragamala: Picturing Sound” The Metropolitan Museum Exhibitions. Accessed December 4, 2014,
2. Altoon Sultan, “At the Met: ‘Ragamala: Picturing Sound,'” Studio and Garden, December 2, 2014, accessed December 4, 2014,
3. David Gregory Roberts, Shantaram (Australia, Scribe Publications, 2003).


About torinmurphy

Animator in training. Connoisseur of concepts. Today I live to see. Tomorrow I'll live to show. Every day I live to learn.
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