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This chapter gives an account of the life of the great Indian musician named Tansen. It tells about his journey of becoming a musician. It also narrates an interesting incident about Tansen that took place in the court of Emperor Akbar.
Born in Gwalior, Tansen was the only child of his parents. His father, Mukandan Misra, was also a singer. Tansen’s childhood days were spent in the nearby forest. It was during these early years that he began to notice animals and birds, and also learnt to imitate their sounds.
As a child, Tansen once hid himself behind the trees to scare a group of travellers who had stopped in the forest to take rest. As Tansen made roaring sounds, the disciples ran to save their lives from the tiger but their teacher, Swami Haridas, recognised the voice. Besides complaining about the boy’s prank to his father, he also acknowledged the boy’s gift of a voice that could be trained for singing. This incident marked Tansen’s initiation into musical training under the singer Swami Haridas, who took the boy with him.
Tansen trained under Swami Haridas for a period of eleven years. This long period polished his musical skills and made him a refined singer. During this time, however, both his parents in Gwalior died. As per his father’s last wish, Tansen then went to visit a holy man named Mohammad Ghaus in Gwalior. While staying in Gwalior, Tansen visited the court of Rani Mrignaini. He later married Hussaini who was a lady of the court and they had five children.
As soon as Tansen entered the court of Akbar in 1556, he became the emperor’s favourite. Akbar was so fond of Tansen that he paid visits to his house to hear him sing and also gave him many rewards. Tansen’s growing popularity in the court made some courtiers so jealous that they devised a clever plan to kill Tansen. They challenged him to sing Raga Deepak, a raga which could burn the singer, if sung well.
The wise Tansen found a way to sing the Raga perfectly without burning himself to ashes. He trained his daughter Saraswati, and her friend, Rupvati to sing Raga Megh. On the appointed day, Tansen sang Raga Deepak to perfection. As it began to grow hot because of Tansen’s brilliant performance, Saraswati and Rupvati sang Raga Megh so beautifully that it brought the rain. The rain water cooled down the court’s atmosphere and Tansen’s life was also saved.
Tansen went on to become even more popular for his music. He had given an excellent display of talent as well as wisdom. The Emperor punished the courtiers who had devised the plan and he honoured Tansen by keeping him in his court until the day the great musician died in 1585. Tansen’s tomb in Gwalior remains a place of importance even today.