M.F. Husain has recurrently paid homage to Indian cultural traditions in their classical forms and during the period of the 1950s to the late 1960s, he produced one of his most energetic series of works entitled 'Ragamala', capturing the artist's continuous fascination with rasa (aesthetic rapture). The inter-disciplinary nature of music, sculpture, dance, painting and film provided enormous inspiration to Husain at that time and his 'Ragamala' series embodies the masterful usage of his most recognisable pictorial elements.
In the classical tradition, visual interpretations of Indian musical modes were featured in Ragamala paintings, whereby each Raga evoked a specific emotion. The present work interprets the theme into a modern artistic language with Husain's complex composition, rich in a palette influenced by Indian miniatures. There is a sense of sheer vivacity in this canvas; the positioning of musicians and dancers are in five distinct but interrelated spaces whose line, colour and forms convey Husain's deep rooted Indian ethos and vernacular. At its most fundamental level, the artist understood the classical Sanskrit notions on aesthetics that in order to have a handle in painting, one must first grasp the elements of form, movement and music.
Here too one can see the influence of classical Indian sculpture in this work, and Husain's interest to convert sculptural and three-dimensional figures into flat two-dimensional surfaces. Discussing the prevalence of the tribangha (three bends) in temple sculpture, Husain notes, "One reason why I went back to the Gupta period of sculpture was to study the human form ... when the British ruled we were taught to draw a figure with the proportions from Greek and Roman sculpture ... in the East the human form is an entirely different structure ... the way a woman walks in the village there are three breaks ... from the feet, the hips and the shoulder ... they move in rhythm, the walk of a European is erect and archaic." (P. Nandy, The Illustrated Weekly of India, December 4-10, 1983 in Y. Dalmia, 'M.F.Husain: Re-inventing India,' M.F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950's-70's, 2006, unpaginated). All the figures in this composition are represented with strong lines and with postures borrowed from Indian dance, as seen in the group of figures to the lower right of the canvas, also bearing resemblance to Greco-Roman counterparts. There is a stunning harmony and sense of rhythm which moves through the painting in the rendering of the musician and dancers' movements and body language.