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The artist of this contemporary masterpiece has introduced a few changes, such as deletion of lotuses, which in the earlier painting defined the pond, tree-type, and the leafy Madhavi creeper replaced by a flowering one, however, the spirit and the basic imagery of the earlier Kangra masterpiece, as also its classicism, have been effectively retained. Except that this contemporary artist has added a feathered crest to the turban of the princely figure or has modified the style of buti – floral motif, adorning his choga – long gown, the figure’s iconographic features, anatomy, emotional bearing, gesticulation, style of ensemble and jewellery, all are the same as in the earlier Kangra miniature – its proto-model. The painting abounds in the flavour of tradition and has a touch of antiqueness.
Raga Lalita manifests unsatisfied love and the sorrow of separation. Its time is daybreak when after a sleepless night the melody bursts into a pathetic tone. In Indian tradition ‘sarasa’ is symbolic of fidelity and true love. As is the common place, when one of the pair of ‘sarasas’ dies, the other also relinquishes its life. The young prince, while holding them in his embrace, lauds their eternal love and feels happy that at least they are not separated. Since ancient days Madhavi, the creeper entwined around the Saptaparni tree (Dr M.S. Randhawa has erroneously identified it as mango in the early Kangra painting), has been used for denoting love. In the Sakuntalam by the known Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, sage Kanva, when he knows that his daughter Shakuntala had secretly married king Dushyanta and was carrying his child in her womb, declares that he shall give the Madhavi to the Mango, its lover, that is, Shakuntala, to Dushyanta. Here Madhavi, united with the tree supporting it, bursts with flowers and thus by contrast the pain of separation only further enhances.
In an iconographic variant, the handsome youth, representing Raga Lalita sits on a mound, or an elevated ground, close to the shores of a lake or river, with his face turned to left, and feeds a pair of white cranes with white grains carried in two bowls held in his both hands. From his right a maiden joins him. She too carries the additional stock of the same grains in flat bowls held in her front in both of her hands. Thus, crane is an essential component of Raga Lalita, perhaps because the related ‘dhyana’ contends that wild goose speaks the musical mode Raga Lalita. In paintings illustrating Raga Lalita the bird usually painted in them is a blend of a form of crane and wild goose, something like a ‘sarasa’, now largely obsolete.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.