The Tansen legacy

The guru's voice: A painting of Tansen and Emperor Akbar visiting Swami Haridas. Photo Courtesy: The National Museum, Delhi.

Indian classical music is a cultural inheritance like no other, wrapped in mythology and polished by our music-loving gods. However, there has been a considerable Muslim influence on Indian music over the ages, giving it a distinct character.

Al Barauni had mastered Sanskrit, while in India, and had even translated the Panchatantra into Arabic. Arab maritime trade with Kerala brought their music into our realm. Yemeni and Kaafi, ragas of Arabic origin, came into our music in the 8th or 9th century itself.

The year 1919 saw the discovery of a rare manuscript at Gadwal, under the rule of the Hyderabad Nizam. Sarangadeva's Sangita Ratnakara was written two centuries later, the first modern work on Indian music. Islamic influence on Indian music became evident by the 13{+t}{+h} century.

Amir Khusro wrote that Indian music was the fire that warmed the heart and soul, superior to the music of any nation.

Court musicians

Ibn Batuta writes that Sultan Mohommad bin Tughlak had more than 2,000 musicians at his court. The Shah of Jaunpur had the Sanskrit Sangita Siromani compiled.

‘Lajhat-e-Sikandar Shahi,' written at the request of Sikandar Lodi, the Delhi Sultan, was the first book on Indian music in Persian, based on Sanskrit sources.

Ibrahim Adil Shah II was an accomplished poet-musician, and sang in praise of Hindu gods, publishing his songs in the book ‘Kitab-e-Nauras.'

The Kuchipudi and Bhagavata mela dance traditions received plenty of Muslim patronage.

‘Machupalli Kaifiat' was written on these arts, under Muslim encouragement. Words such as salamu and tillana, Persian in origin, became an intrinsic part of Sadir or Bharatanatyam.

Akbar, the greatest of the Moghuls, had 36 court musicians — both Hindus and Muslims. Baz Bahadur, the Malwa king with a Hindu wife Rupmati, was one of them. Tansen was the pride of Akbar's court, and India.

It is now about 500 years since Tansen was born to the Brahmin poet-musician Makarand Pandey in Baher village near Gwalior. His birth itself happened under unique circumstances. His childless parents went to a Sufi fakir, Mohammud Ghaus, and soon after, were blessed with a child, whom they named Tanna. A few years later, the fakir came to Tanna's home, and removed some betel nut from his mouth and put it into Tanna's mouth, claiming the child as his own, renaming him as Ata Mohammed Khan. The child went on to become ‘Miyan' Tansen.

The young Tanna would sing at the local Siva temple. Later on, he composed songs on Siva and Krishna in Braj Basha. As a growing child, he could perfectly imitate bird calls and roar like a tiger to frighten trespassers. Once, some holy men were scared by his ‘roar;' Tanna apologised to them. They then suggested to Pandey that Tanna be sent to Swami Haridas, the famed music teacher-saint of Vrindavan.

An auspicious day was chosen, and Tanna went to live with his guru, learning all that the master had to teach him. He spent 10 years with Swami Haridas. The other students were Baiju Bawra, Ramdas, Raja Sanmukhan Singh of Ajmer, Manadali and Rani Mrignayani of Gwalior. The Raja of Ajmer accompanied Tansen on the veena, his favourite instrument.

It is thought that Emperor Akbar's daughter Meherunnisa was enamoured of Tansen and his music, and was responsible for his coming to Akbar's court. Akbar soon made him one of his Nine Gems at court, and bestowed upon him the title ‘Miyan.'

Codifying ragas

Tansen codified the confusing mass of ragas, making a list of about 400 properly delineated ones. He wrote ‘Sangita Sara' and ‘Rajmala.' Many ragas were composed by him, prefaced by the title Miyan — Miyan ki Todi, Malhar, Sarang, Maund and Rageshri. His Darbari was dedicated to his emperor.

Legend surrounded Tansen. A wild elephant was tamed by his music; flowers bloomed when he sang Bahar; his Megh Malhar brought rain; his Deepak created fires… Many are convinced that Tansen, who died in his 82{+n}{+d} year, was consumed by the flames created when he sang Deepak raga.

Tansen and his wife had five children -- four sons and a daughter, all musicians. His daughter Saraswati became a famous veena player. Tansen's sons played the rhabab, the string instrument modified by Tansen. Dr. Dabir Khan was one of Tansen's last descendants, who was employed by AIR, Calcutta.

Tansen lies buried next to the tomb of the fakir Mohammed Ghaus, in Gwalior. It was this fakir who had predicted his birth and glory. A tamarind tree grows over the grave, and it is believed that those who eat the leaves of this tree will be blessed with a beautiful singing voice. So many singers visit the place, and seek the blessings of Tansen.

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Printable version | Apr 25, 2022 12:21:45 pm |