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Tansen, the legend.


Tansen, the father of Hindustani Music, was a music genius since early childhood. He became a court musician and one of the nine gems of Emperor Akbar. He not only composed music, but wrote the lyrics too. Impressed by his exceptional musical talent he was given the title of Miyan Tansen by the Emperor Akbar.

Tansen is known to have polished and popularised the oldest form of Indian music called Dhrupad( which could be traced back to Vedic times). It was his times that Dhrupad reached it’s peak.

Most of the music composed by him are referred with a “ Miyan ki”prefix, eg Miyan ki Todi, Miyan ki Malhar, Miyan ki Mand and Miyan ki Sarang. He is also credited to have created certain other court ragas( traditional melody) like Darbari Kanada, Darbari Todi, and Rageshwari.

Tansen performed in the courts of Akber. He also performed for the emperor alone. At night he sang ragas that would soothe and help the emperor sleep. In the morning he would sing morning ragas to awaken the emperor fresh and cheerful.

There are various legends attached to Tansen.

It is believed that his music was so captivating that even animals and birds would stop to listen to him. There is an interesting story of a white elephant being caught for the Emperor to ride. But the animal was uncontrollable and untameable. So Tansen sang to the elephant and calmed it down, so that the Emperor could ride.

It is said that his created ragas  would cause different effects e.g. such as cool the environment and attract clouds  that it would induce rain ( Rag Megh Malhar) or heat up the environment to cause fire ( Rag Deepak).

Once Emperor Akber insisted that he sing Rag Deepak in the court to prove that his music had the said effect. Tansen begged a fortnight before he would sing the raga. In this duration he made his daughter Saraswati, learn the Rag Megh Malhar.

And then the day arrived when he began to sing Rag Deepak in the Emperor’s court.

Unlit lamps were placed in the court.

As Tansen began to sing, the air around started to get warm, then warmer. The audience started to perspire. The flowers dried; including the famous rose bud that Akber is famed to have held in his hand in court. The water fountain in the courtyard began to steam up and the flames of fire could be seen flashing in the air, while the lamps lit up.

As this happened, his disciple and daughter, was directed by him to start singing Rag Megh Malhar ( the music that induced rain).

In a few minutes the cold breeze started to blow. The clouds came and overcast the sky. The music waves caused the clouds to thunder and while the rag Deepak induced lightening. And soon the heavy showers began to pour over the place, and put off the flames.

How it is said that this down pour could not put down the internal fire that was lit within Tansen while he sang Rag Deepak. And he fell ill, with very high fever, and in a few months died of the ailment.

Grieved by his death, his son Bila Khan began to sing Bilas ki Todi, based on his raga Miyan ki Todi. He sang so well that the dead Tansen’s hand rose to signal praise for the son.

One wonders not only at the likelihood of these legends being true, but also at how did these legends , which have now become part of Tansen history, come into being.

Below is the song based on Rag Deepak, picturised in an Indian movie made on Tansen.

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Comments on: "Tansen, the legend." (2)

  1. Lovely piece, Ilmana. Even if some of these tales are urban legends, we cherish them, as they are a part of our heritage.

  2. […] has it that Tansen, a music genius, one of Mughal emperor Akbar’s navratna, or nine court jewels, was so incredibly accomplished […]

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