BARAHMASA The Indian seasons have been the subject of beautiful descriptions in poetry, prose, and drama since ancient times, and the relationship between man and nature has been fundamental to India's worldview. The paintings of barahmasa (the depiction of twelve months in painting) appear to be modest attempts to correlate the artistic and literary endeavors of Indian poets and painters, portraying the cycle of seasons. At the same time, music, which also forms an important part of India's way of life, is closely associated with rāgas and rāginis (representations of musical modes in color) painted by Rajasthani artists, which ring in consonance with the above theory.
Indian literary references to ritus (seasons) are as ancient as the great Indian epic Rāmāyaṇa, in which experiences of the changing seasons were mentioned for the first time. In the forest, Rāma laments the loss of his abducted wife, Sītā. He observes the changes in nature, which aggravate his passionate longing for his beloved wife. Throughout classical Indian literature, we find men pining for their loved ones, taking cues from nature, as the seasons manifest their effects on the heros and heroines in samyoga (union) and viyoga (separation).
The Vishnudharmottara Purāṇa, (c. 3rd–4th centuries a.d.) indicates the features of different seasons, as they should be painted. For example, the severity of summer is indicated by the heat of the sun and its tormenting effect on human beings. Spring is suggested by trees in bloom, humming with bees and resounding with the sweet call of the cuckoo. The rainy season is represented by dark, heavy-laden clouds, bent by their aquatic burden, beautified by rainbows and frequent flashes of silver lightning in the sky.
In the Gupta period (c. 3rd–4th centuries a.d.), Kalidasa, India's foremost playwright and poet, wrote his Ritusamhara, a poetic work of both seasons and love. He describes each ritu, observing as well the passionate responses of the lovers. Although there is a total absence of visual representation of this emotional drama during the early period, Kalidasa composed some of world's best classical works. In yet another notable work titled Kumarsambhava, he elaborates on the seasons, and his description of spring is particularly noteworthy.
Shrada ritu, or spring, was the favorite season of the poets and painters of the medieval period in Jain and secular literature, as well as Sufi romances, including the Laur-Chanda of Mullah Daud, the Mirgavat of Qutuban, and Padmavat of Malik Muhammed Jaysi, which proved most popular. They excelled both in poetic content and in the simple and attractive pictorial language of the Delhi Sultanate school of painting. The scroll of Vasanta Vilasa (phagu), painted at Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, in a.d. 1451, reached a peak of excellence in both verbal and visual imagination. It primarily describes Vasanta (spring), and though painted in the Jainesque, hieratic manner, opens up a panorama of love, romance, and erotic splendor, highlighted by an appropriate landscape.
In the wake of the Vaisnava renaissance in Rajasthan, in the seventeenth century, Vallabhacharya propagated the Pushti-marg (path of grace), and his followers, the Asta-chhap (eight poets) wrote in the Vrajabhasha language, spreading the gospel of bhakti-marg ("path of devotion" to Krishna). Poets and painters at this juncture offered their hearts and souls to Krishna (worshiped as Sri-Nathji at Nathadwara, near Udaipur in Rajasthan), producing painting, poetry, sangeet (music), and literature. Prominent among the poets was Keshavadasa, the court poet of Maharaja Madhukarshah of Orchha (central India), who composed the Rasikapriya (Connoisseur's delight), an account of the twelve months as barahmasa. The tenth chapter of the Kavipriya (Poet's delight) and depicts the life of people in different seasons, their ceremonies and rituals, and describes how a nayika (heroine) should prevail upon the nayaka (hero) to stay with her instead of beginning a journey. He gives an account of the months mentioning the delightful spring (Chaitra and Baisakh), the heat of summer (Jyestha and Ashadha), the showers of Shravan and Bhadon, the clear sky and brightness of Aswin and Kartik, the pleasant Agahana, chilly Pausha, and the pleasant Megha.
The earliest pictorial representation of Rasikapriya is in the popular Mughal style, from about a.d. 1600 (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Though most of the Rajasthani schools favored this theme in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the sets produced by the Amber-Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Malwa and Bundelkhand, and Bundi and Kotah are noteworthy. They give prominence to the changing of nature, showing its connection to social customs, festivals, and traditions, as well as to the behavior of animals in the forest. Among the complete sets, the one of the Bundi Kotah school, in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, is fairly representative of the theme.
In the nineteenth century, the popularity of the subject reached the Hill States of Himachal Pradesh. Patronized by the Hindu rajas, painters from different schools such as Garhwal, Kangra, and Guler took up this theme, and a good number of barahmasa sets came to light. Unlike the stylized Rajasthani idiom, the Pahari artists excelled in the realistic rendering of nature in the hill states. They depicted as well delicate and slender figures, the ardent lovers of the Kangra style, looking into each other's eyes with passion and love, announcing their desire to unite and remain indoors. A depiction of a couple, standing on an open terrace against a backdrop of looming rain clouds and white cranes in flight, or witnessing the first rain from the balcony, is a common theme among the Pahari painters. Thus, the changing of the seasons and the natural atmosphere affect the minds of the hero and the heroine, prevailing upon them to experience the pangs of separation and the ecstasy of union, in the company of the chain of seasons known as barahmasa.
Dwevedi, V. P. Barahmasa. Delhi: Agama Prakashan, 1980.
Randhawa, M. S. Kangra Paintings on Love. New Delhi: National Museum, 1962.