Epic Tales Multimedia

Because Ragamala paintings are meant to evoke the sounds and emotions of different musical modes, the viewing of these paintings is greatly enhanced by musical accompaniment. Featured here are excerpts from three ragas related to images in the exhibition. These are taken from performances recorded in the early 1900s, representing some of India’s greatest vocalists and instrumentalists.

A full raga performance comprises two major sections: alap, an unaccompanied exploration of a raga’s melodic nuances, and bandish, a two-stanza composition set to relatively fixed melodies that are framed in a tala, or meter, played on the tabla drum pair. Underpinning all is the sound of the tanpura, its plucked strings forming a sonic foundation for any raga.

All recordings are courtesy of the John Campana Hindustani Music Archive. These selections have been curated by James Kippen.

Raga Asavari, Jankibai of Allahabad (1880–1934), vocal khayal with unidentified tabla and harmonium accompaniment, recorded 1908

This version of a raga usually performed in the morning is sung by a popular courtesan who gained fame for her vocal abilities and was among the first recording artists in India. She can be heard announcing her name, Jankibai, at the very end of this piece.

Raga Lalita, Allauddin Khan (ca.1881–1972), sarod with unidentified tabla accompaniment, recorded in the 1930s

Lalita is performed predawn. The great innovator Allauddin Khan, guru of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar, performs a fast composition with a distinct rhythmic signature.

Raga Todi, Ramkrishnabua Vaze (1871–1945), vocal khayal with unidentified tabla accompaniment, recorded in the 1930s

Raga Todi is usually performed in the morning or at midday. Vazebua, as he was known, was a master of esoteric ragas and compositions. Here, he establishes the fast composition (both sthayi and antara parts) before embarking on improvised passages.

This selection from a recitation of the Shahnama recounts the birth of Rustam, the great hero who lived during the reign of King Kay Kavus. Rustam is the son of Zal, a powerful warrior, and Rudaba, a princess from Kabul. His extraordinary nature is evident from the time of his birth—he is delivered by Caesarean section, a procedure which in Farsi is named for him, rustamzad. The text is read by Afshin Sepehri, courtesy of www.shahnameh-audio.com.

Sita Sings the Blues (2008) is a modern retelling of the Ramayana, written, directed, and animated by Nina Paley. Set to jazz vocals by the 1920s singer Annette Hanshaw, the film interweaves details of Paley’s own life with Sita’s, and posits an alternative ending for this heroine.