Barahmasa: The Splendour of the Twelve Months in Paintings



#Didyouknow that a genre of Indian poetry the ‘Barahmasa’ has also been depicted in miniature paintings? One can also recall the highly evolved Ragamala paintings which are based on musical modes, which also include the ‘Barahmasa’ theme. In fact, the Barahmasa theme including the seasons or ‘ritus’ finds place in ancient inscriptions, Sanskrit literature, regional Indian literature, Hindi literature, Islamic art and Western Art as well.  Let’s check  further about this interesting theme in Indian miniature paintings. 

What is Barahmasa? 

Barahmasa or “the twelve months” is a poetic genre popular in the Indian subcontinent derived primarily from the Indian folk tradition. It is usually themed around a woman, a nayika longing for her absent lover or husband, describing her own emotional state against the backdrop of passing seasonal and ritual events. She could be pining away or going to meet him in the rainy season braving difficulties on the way!

Technically, the twelve months or Barahmasa, also spelt Baramasa, correspond to the length of a year which is a span of time. During these months various seasons happen in nature. Human activities change and so does nature with its various elements, the sky, birds, water bodies, animals and vegetation. Human emotions also are affected by the changes in season. The various months are Chaitra (March-April). starting in the spring season.  The following months are Vaishakha(April-May), Jyestha (May-June), Ashadha (June-July), Sravana(July-August), Bhadon (August-September), Ashvin (September-October), Kartikka (October-November), Margasirsa or  Agrahyana(November-December), Pausa(December-January), Magha (January-February) and Phalguna (February-March).

The seasons are well depicted in all forms in India’s art and literature and its overall cultural landscape. Poetry, painting and sculpture have vivid portrayals and descriptions of the seasons. Seasons in India are part of her ethos and life because in India time is cyclical and not linear. Festivals are also celebrated in connections with each season. The Barahmasa is a genre of poetry, a concept to which there have been many contributions. Indian paintings have been closely associated with literature. Many important literary works right from ancient times have been depicted in art and sculpture.  This theme has been depicted in paintings mostly from late medieval period. An Indian treatise Vishnudharmottara-purana composed sometime during the interval of the Kushana and Gupta times, has the third chapter as Chitrasutra, a set of guidelines on how the seasons are to be depicted in art. Artists have followed the guidelines in ancient and medieval India.

The Barahmasa was popular in Hindi literature during 13th to 16th centuries and was also a part of Sufi poetry. However, Barahmasa in miniature paintings were mostly done or executed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The paintings had writings in Devanagari on top or behind the painting. 

Royal patronage

Many royal courts of Indian States had their own painters and ateliers. This theme has not found much favour with Mughal miniatures and Deccani painting though nature by itself has been a subject of composition in these schools. Many animal and bird portraitures have been made in the Mughal paintings; the Deccani schools depict clouds, ponds and lotuses. The Rajasthani painting evolved in the courts of Rajputana which included the Barahmasa in their repertoire. They were done in the miniature format,  also on walls of havelis or mansions, palaces and inner chambers of forts. The pigments were derived from minerals, plants, conches and precious stones too! Gold and silver were used at places. The paintings depicted various themes from the social view-point, also stories form the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Nature was depicted too; these paintings were representative of a ruler’s legacy. The Rajasthani school has many sub-schools. like Jaipur, Bikaner, Bundi, Kota, Mewar, Alwar and Jodhpur. The style of painting has been influenced by Persian, European, Mughal and Chinese art of painting. The paintings are rich, a contrast to the arid desert landscape, dry hills and less vegetation. The Barahmasa theme has been depicted in Chamba, Garhwal, Guler, Kangra, Mandi and Nurpur Schools from among the Pahari School. The Pahari Schools developed in the hilly regions of North India during 17th to 19th century.

From Jammu to Garhwal, Himachal Pradesh, the range is wide, varied and very interesting. Basohli school is from Jammu which is known for its bold colours. Kangra is famous for its Radha-Krishna depictions and its lyrical quality; being greatly inspired by Jayadeva’s Geeta-Govinda. Central India has the Malwa, Datia and Bundelkhand schools. The Chitrasutra as already mentioned, has given guidelines for the seasons and they seem to be followed by artists across India. Summer is indicated by the sun in the sky, spring with its seasonal trees in bloom, humming bees, cuckoo depictions and men and women going around happily  having conversations! Further, summer depicts fatigue experienced by men, animals, dry pools, birds hiding in trees, lions and tigers resting in their mountainous hideouts. The rainy season has its dark, laden clouds and streaks of lightning in the sky. Autumn has trees full of fruits, corn ripe in the fields, pools full of swans and lotuses. The winter has its dew, fog and snow; the earth is bare and misty. 

Barahmasa depictions

1. Chaitra

Let us see some Barahmasa paintings from different schools. Starting with the month of Chaitra which is depicted with the seasonal trees in bloom, men and women joyous, and in conversation. Birds and sarus cranes are seen in the background where the lotuses are abounding in the pool nearby.

Poet Keshav Das says about Chaitra – as per a translation

The charming creepers have blossomed and so have the young trees. The rivers and ponds are full. The women are aglow with passion, the birds are chirping making sweet sounds… “

Image Source

Chaitra (March-April), from a Barahmasa series, circa 1675-1700, Bundi, British Museum, London.

2. Vaisakha

The month of Baisakh or Vaisakha is one of joy and happiness. There is a nice feel in the air with blooming flowers. The painting here shows the eternal lovers Radha and Krishna in a conversation in a palace setting. Flowering trees, flowing waters and sarus cranes are also apart of the season and the composition.

Poet Keshav Das says about Vaisakha – as per a translation

“The earth and atmosphere are filled with fragrance, breeze full of sweet smell is blowing gently. All around there is fragrant beauty. The beloved says to the lover – ………………………do not talk of going away in the month of Vaiskaha”.

Image Source

Vaisakha, from a Barahmasa series, Jaipur, circa 1800, British Museum, London, U. K.

3. Jyeshtha

The month of Jyeshtha is hot and humid, people are seen using hand fans reclining under shades and birds are hiding in the trees. The sun is scorching the earth and there is bright light around. The animals are resting in shade or retreating to the forest.

Poet Keshav Das says about Jyeshtha – as per a translation

The sun is so bright and scorching that the five elements air, water, sky, earth and fire have become one, hot as fire..the roads are deserted and the tanks are parched dry… . even the powerful creatures become weak in this season.”

Image Source

Jyestha (May-June), Barahmasa series, Jaipur, circa 1800, British Museum, London, U K. 

4. Ashadha

The Ashadha month is the pre-monsoon month and clouds start arriving in the sky with rain on and off. The lotuses are in bloom in the ponds. People are able to stay both indoors and outdoors, as seen in the painting. The peacocks are also active since clouds are in the sky, which augurs rain.

Poet Keshav Das says about Ashadha – as per a translation

Strong winds are blowing around. In such weather only a man of feeble mind will go out leaving his home and beloved. Even birds don’t leave their nests”

Image Source

Ashadha (June-July), Folio from a Barahmasa series, Kota School, circa 1700-1725, L A C M A, Los Angeles, U.S A.

5. Shravan

In Shravan month, the sky gets laden with rain bearing clouds and opens with lightning and thunder! Peacocks are happiest during this time and dance to full glory with their splendorous tail spread out. Nature all around is green and verdant. In the painting we can see the streaks of lightning filling the sky. Pangs of separation are felt more strongly in this season. Forlorn nayikas, the heroines are eager to meet their beloved!

Image Source

Poet Keshav Das says about Shravan – as per a translation

“During this season the rivers meet the ocean making a pleasant scene. The creepers have clung to the trees. The lightning meets the clouds, all lovers are meeting their beloveds”

Sravana (July-August). Barahmasa series. Jaipur, circa 1800, British Museum, London, U K. 

6. Bhadon

The painting below shows a forlorn heroine trying to go out to meet her beloved and her sakhi or friend refraining her as the sky is full of menacing clouds during the month of Bhadon.

Poet Keshav Das says about Bhadon – as per a translation

“The dark clouds have gathered all around and are thundering loudly. The rain is pouring in torrents. The cicadas are chirping continuously and strong wind is blowing fiercely. One’s home is like nectar and outside is like poison’’

Image Source

Virahini nayika (lovesick heroine) during Bhadon (August-September), Barahmasa theme, circa 1740, Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii, U.S.A.

7. Ashvin

Ashvin is a very important month. It is the month of paying respects to elders who have passed away. Goddess Durga (devi) is worshipped as well. The ponds still have the floating lotuses. The skies are clear with periodic clouds only. The painting shows a king talking to his subjects and also to his consort. People are seen praying to the devi as well.

Poet Keshav Das says about Ashvin– as per a translation

“During this month spirits of the ancestors come down to earth to receive propitiations, The Navadurgas are worshipped for success and salvation. The sky is quite clear and lotuses are in bloom. The moon illuminates the nights. The kings venture out to see their kingdoms along with pundits. The beloved requests her lover not to leave home”.

Image Source

Ashvin or Asoja (September-October), Barahmasa series. Jaipur, circa 1800, British Museum, London, U. K. 

8. Kartikka

The painting depicting Kartikka which is month of lights and holy dips in rivers. It is believed that the Gods comes to the Ganges for a dip during this time on a full-moon night, or ‘Purnima’. Women are shown drawing ‘rangolis’ and lighting lamps, while some men are taking dips in the water-body.

Poet Keshav Das says about Kartikka– as per a translation

“A month of clear skies and cool breezes. Everything is shining and the Deepavali festival of lamps is celebrated. People paint their walls with images of gods and goddesses. The whole atmosphere is vivid and people go for sacred dips in rivers, do charity by giving alms, thus earning merit. The beloved does not want to be separated from her lover”.

Image Source

Kartikka (October-November). Barahmasa series, Jaipur, circa 1800, British Museum, London, U.K.

9. Margasirsa

The painting of Margasirsa depicting a pleasant atmosphere with trees and lotuses in bloom and a happy peacock and few cranes. People seem to be very comfortable and in conversation. 

Poet Keshav Das says about Margasirsa – as per a translation

“Margasirsa or Agrahayana  is most dear to God, a pleasant month with flowers all around. The air is filled with the songs of the swans. It is neither too cold nor too hot. During this month too, the beloved implores the love to not leave home”.

Image Source

Margasirsa or Agrahayana (November-December) Barahmasa series, circa 1800, maybe Kota, Rajasthan. British Museum, London, U.K.

10. Pausa

The month of Pausa is depicted with people warming their hands over fire and sleeping under blankets to face the biting cold. Shawls are worn around the head and shoulders. People seem to be suffering from fever and are making visits to the vaidya or doctor for treatment. The painting below shows women covered in shawls and their hands over a fire to ward off the cold.

Poet Keshav Das says about Pausa – as per a translation

“In the month of Pausa nobody likes cold things, even the earth and sky have become cold. The days are short and nights are dark and long, this is not the time to quarrel with one’s lover”.

Image Source

Pausa (December-January), Barahmasa series, Rajasthan, circa 1740-60, Brooklyn Museum, U S A. 

11. Magh

The month of Magha or Magh  is another month which is has many festivals and is a time to celebrate. The Vasant Panchami falls during this month and it is springtime. Flowers bloom in full glory, people dance to music and dance away during this season. The painting on Magh shows Lord Krishna with his gopis ( cowherd maidens) in a bower at Vrindavan enjoying music and dance. All are playing different instruments.

Image Source

Vasantotsav, month of Magh, (January-February), painting from Kota, Rajasthan, circa 1770, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia.

Poet Keshav Das says about Magh – as per a translation

‘’Forests and gardens are echoing the sweet notes of peacock, pigeons and koel. Bees are humming around as if they have lost their way. All the ten directions are scented with musk, camphor and sandal. Sweet sounds of mrudunga and other musical instruments are heard throughout the night. All are celebrating Vasanta. The beloved says don’t leave home if you love me at all! “.

12. Phalguna

Phalguna is a month when it is neither too hot nor cold and people celebrate the festival of Holi, sprinkling and smearing ‘gulal’ (a pink-red powder) over each other. Enemies forgive each other, and no-one takes offence during this festival. The painting on Phalguna shows Radha-Krishna and the gopis celebrating Holi. ‘Gulal’ is seen being sprinkled with the help of water guns amidst music and song and there is merriment in the air.

Poet Keshav Das says about Phalguna – as per a translation

“Rich and poor are merry making together without caring for anyone. They are speaking without restraint. Young men and women are playing Holi with great abandon smearing each other with gulal. You should not think of leaving home, says the beloved”.

Image Source

Phalguna (February-March), Radha-Krishna playing Holi, painting from Awadh, 19th century, Freer Gallery of Art, U S A

Thus, we can see the miniature artists and their patrons were quite enthusiastic in portraying the months and seasons in great detail. After all man is a product of nature!


  1. Dwivedi, V.P (1980) Barahmasa: the Song of Seasons in Literature and Art , Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan. 
  3. Translations by V. P Dwivedi. 
  4. Images are via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain) with CC. Licences.

Image credits: The copyright for the images used in this article belong to their respective owners. Best known credits are given under the image. For changing the image credit or to get the image removed from Caleidoscope, please contact us.


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