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In different traditions of miniature painting, broadly those of Rajasthani and Pahari arts, the imagery used for representing Ragini Asavari is widely different. At various centres of medieval painting in Rajasthan, Bundi, Udaipur, Alwar and others, painters have personified Ragini Asavari as a young damsel seated on a mound in the forest surrounded by snakes descending from the trees around, obviously the sandal trees. In this set of imagery snake-charmer’s pipe is an essential component. If not blowing it, she has it at least around her.
Completely departing from this Rajasthani artists’ vision of the Ragini, the Pahari art traditions have perceived it as a damsel in a palace surrounded by great regalia, sometimes as one with her figure stretched on her bed with a bolster under her head, and another, under one of her legs, and at other times, as one seated on a chowki holding a flower in one of her hands, attendants around and an old woman close to her feet offering her a bowl, often made of leaves and containing jasmine flowers. Jammu has followed broadly the Rajasthani perception, though not without some elements of Pahari art assimilated with it. In such widely different sets of imagery the common thing is the expression of the unsatisfied longing of love – the central emotion of Ragini Asavari, which each set, Rajasthani or Pahari, manifests in its own way.
Whatever in regard to the type of ornaments and costume, none of the traditions seems to have adhered, at least in its exactness, to Ragini Asavari-related textual allusions, or ‘dhyana’ – the image of mind contained in various texts, or to have developed its set of imagery out of such textual sources. The related texts have perceived the damsel, manifesting Ragini Asavari, as having dark skin, though contrarily, all traditions have resorted to an icon of a fair-skinned young woman for representing it. Being the consort of the dark-bodied Raga Megh texts had a logic in conceiving the colour of its (consort’s) skin as dark, which perhaps, could not be acceptable to visual art of which aesthetics were the prime concern, and the figure of a young woman with dark skin was seen as ante-aesthetics. Similarly, the related ‘dhyana’ in texts perceives Ragini Asavari as emanating out of the cry of the mythical bird Chataka but in no tradition a bird form has been associated with the imagery representing Ragini Asavari.
For representing Ragini Asavari the artist of this folio has resorted to Rajasthani tradition of visualizing it. Like a widely stretching desert, a characteristic feature of Rajasthan, the background consists of sand-like opaque pale colour. Even the mound, on which is seated the young damsel manifesting Ragini Asavari, is a mere elevation of sand. It seems that attracted by the music of her pipe, which she seems to have stopped blowing now and lies on her right, snakes creeping down the trees have gathered round her. The trees might be sandal trees, the mythical abode of snakes. She is holding one of them in her hand and, as indicates the mode of her fingers, is elaborating to it something, or assuring it to feed it with milk she is carrying in the jar lying on her back. The snakes symbolise unsatisfied longing of love, which Ragini Asavari endeavours to satisfy by feeding it with its melody but in doing so it only further intensifies it – the agony of love-longing.
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.