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Ragini Deshakhya

Ragini Deshakhya
Item Code: MG27
Watercolor on Paper
Artist: Kailash Raj
7.0" X 9.0"
This elegant miniature, apparently representing two youths engaged in physical exercise, portrays an abstract concept, Ragini Deshakhya, variedly spelt as Deshakha or Devsakh. The painting, rendered in adherence to the Bikaner art style of the late seventeenth century, reveals the same Mughal elegance, fluidity of lines, maturity of form and perfect modeling which Mughal court artists emigrating to Bikaner court had infused into Bikaner art. The European realism, which had reached the Mughal court due to its contacts with European world, and to Bikaner from the Mughal court, characterises this rendition too. Not only in the portrayal of the two youths but also in rendering the venue – a gymnasium with a semi-hexagonal wall, plain floor and a gymnastic pole in the centre, the painting takes recourse to the realism that characterises the contemporary art. It was only rarely that an Indian medieval painting rendered its theme without a crowed background with conventionalised trees and other motifs. The artist dared set his scene against a plain monochromic background using various tones of the same colour or one or two other colours having same tonal value. The figures seem to emerge from softly glowing colours, and it is, perhaps, from them that the painting hums its song.

In Indian classicism, Deshakhya is perceived as the fifth son of Bhairava – Bhairavashya panchamah putro Deshakhoyah. Of all Ragas, Bhairava is the most masculine and sturdy. Obviously, Deshakhya, which represents the spirit of physical strength, and is personified in sturdy athletes performing various physical exercises, could belong to the family of Bhairava alone. Harivallabha, one of the four acharyas who initiated their own system of Ragas, perceives Deshakhya as the picture of an athlete. Sangita-damodara perceives the Ragini Deshakhya as : '(a man) of athletis figure, who manifests bristling of the hair on account of shaking (his arms), whose large arms are obstructed and joined in wrestling, who is tall, impetuous in running and white like the moon.' Stella Kramrisch and some other scholars think that Deshakhya could be a musical mode to which were set rites sung when sports and athletic activities, associated with some annual or half yearly desi, rural festival, were begun. These scholars feel that as in ancient Olympia, Greeks celebrated almost every occasion with athletic feats so would have been doing ancient India.

Broadly, Deshakhya is visualised as the master of the art of wrestling or athletics and as a man of mighty body, strong arms, firm shoulders and a shaved head, though not without a strand left on head's apex. In different schools of miniature art, Ragini Deshakhya has been variously depicted – from sportive horse riding to display of physical strength in whatever manner. However, more commonly, athletes, engaged in weight-lifting, swinging maces, wrestling, doing gymnastics, or any kind of physical exercise, are seen as representing Ragini Deshakhya. In this miniature, Ragini Deshakhya has been represented by two youths, one exactly 'white like the moon' as the Sangita-damodara prescribed and the other as much apt by other parameters. One of the two is swinging mace, while the other is engaged in physical exercise. The available means of exercise are quite limited – two weights, one gymnastic pole and one mace. Both youth are in usual loincloth, though the scarf tied on their arms are exceptional. Except a waving strand on head's apex, they have almost shaved heads.

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.

Of Related Interest:

Gallery of Mughal Paintings

Another Medieval Gymnasium

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