India, Rajasthan, probably Marwar, ca. 1630
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Courtesy the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase and partial gift from the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection — funds provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, S2018.1.51
Ragas were often produced in sets called ragamalas, which literally means “garlands of musical modes”. Often these sets of paintings become separated over time and it can be challenging for art historians to reunite works that were once part of a single collection. In this undertaking the style of a work often provides a strong indication of where and when a work was made.
Peacocks often have symbolic associations with love and romance. In this painting, the fact that two peacocks search for mates (and no peahens) highlights the woman’s search for her beloved in the forest.
The Kakubha Ragini shares many iconographic similarities with Kamodhani Ragini. In both, a lone woman, often accompanied by animals, wanders the forest holding garlands as she awaits her beloved. But the naturalistic sense of depth and numerous tiny details that give the Kamodhani its charm are absent from the Kakubha. Instead the artist employs large areas of vibrant color to give the work a dreamlike quality. The woman rises above the groundline literally losing her footing as her hope of reunion turns to fears that her lover may not show. Ragamala painters moved easily between styles, choosing those that suited both the subject matter and the tastes of their patrons.
The flower garlands Kakubha is holding in her hands are called malas. These will be used to greet her beloved when they meet. The word mala is also used in the term ragamala, which refers to a collection, or garland, of raga paintings.
Within this painting, the peacocks hold a prominent place. They are often symbolic of love and romance but here two males search for mates just as she does. This sense of isolation is reinforced by the garlands she holds in her hands. They are symbolic of the love and passion for which she hopes but may not get.