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Tansen - The Magical Musician

2006-07-13 23:25

  Almost exactly in the centre of India is a town called Gwalior. In this town is the tomb of Tansen, one of the greatest musicians that ever lived.Next to his beautifully carved stone tomb stands a little tamarind tree. It is believed that by eating a leaf of this tree and touching the tomb, a singer can improve his voice.

  If this sounds like magic, the story of Tansen is equally magical. Even today, many famous musicians follow the style of music created by Tansen known as the “Gwalior Gharana”。

  About four hundred years ago, in a village near Gwalior, lived a wealthy poet, Mukand Mishra, and his wife. Their only sorrow was that they had no children. On the suggestion of a friend, Mishra went to Gwalior to seek the blessings of the famous saint and musician, Mohammad Ghaus. He tied a holy thread on Mishra's arm, saying, “May God bless you with a son.” And so it came to pass. A child was born and named Tansen. As Tansen grew up his father engaged teachers to teach him to read and write. Tansen, however, was more interested in going to the nearby forest with his friends, where he would imitate bird and animal sounds.

  Once a group of singers were passing through the forest. Tansen hid himself in some bushes and roared like a tiger. So life-like was the sound that the singers became frightened. When the boy showed himself, the leader of the group praised his tiger-like roar. Encouraged, Tansen made more animal and bird sounds.

  The leader was greatly impressed by Tansen's performance. He was none other than the famous music teacher, Haridas.

  Haridas offered to take Tansen as his disciple. “He has great musical talent,” said Haridas to Tansen's father. Most reluctantly, Tansen's mother agreed to let her only child go away to Brindaban to study under Haridas. For almost ten years Tansen studied music from Haridas. Starting with the basic musical notes SA RE GA MA PA DHA NI SA, he learnt the basics of singing and playing the tanpura. He learnt about the different ragas of Indian music and how each raga creates a different mood. A raga can make you so happy that you want to dance, or it can make you so sad that it brings tears to your eyes.

  Then one day there was a message from home that his father was very ill. When Tansen arrived home he found his father on his death-bed.

  “I am happy that you have become a musician. Go and see Mohammad Ghaus,” were his father's last words to him.

  Tansen remained at home to look after his mother, but within a year she, too, died.

  Now Tansen was free to keep his promise to his father to go to Mohammad Ghaus and be trained by him. But, in keeping with Indian tradition, he went to seek permission to learn under a new guru from his first guru, Haridas.

  “You must obey your father's wishes, but you will always be welcome here. You are like a son to me,” said Haridas. And he gave him his blessings.

  Tansen studied under Mohammad Ghaus for three years, developing his musical talent.

  During that time Mohammad Ghaus introduced Tansen to the ruler of Gwalior. They became good friends and Tansen would often visit the ruler's palace, where he would listen to other musicians.

  During his visits to the palace, Tansen met Husani, one of the women who attended on the ruler. Like her name “the beautiful one”, Husani was truly beautiful. Tansen fell in love with her and married her.

  A few years later Mohammad Ghaus died, leaving his property and money to Tansen. Tansen settled in Mohammad Ghaus's house and his family was raised there. One day a messenger arrived from the court of Rewa, near Gwalior. The messenger opened the scroll and read: “King Ramchandra of Rewa would like you to be a musician at his court.”

  This was a great honour and the first step in Tansen's rise to fame.

  King Ramchandra admired Tansen's singing and lavished many expensive gifts on him. Once he gave him a thousand gold coins.

  Then one day the Emperor, Akbar, went on a visit to Rewa. King Ramchandra arranged for Tansen to entertain his royal guest.

  The emperor was greatly impressed by Tansen's music and, soon after his return, sent a message to Ramchandra requesting him to send Tansen to his court.

  King Ramchandra did not want to part with Tansen, but he could not afford to displease the powerful Akbar. After all, Akbar was the Emperor of India, and Ramchandra was only the king of a small state in Akbar's empire.

  So, reluctantly, King Ramchandra sent Tansen as a royal gift from one court to another escorted by his own men.

  Tansen received a royal welcome in the capital city of Agra. Akbar was so impressed by Tansen's music that he bestowed on him the highest honour of the land. Tansen was included among his navratna, nine jewels 每 the nine most outstanding talents of the royal court.

  Besides performing in the court, Tansen would often sing alone for the Emperor. At night he sang ragas that would soothe and help Akbar fall asleep, and in the morning Tansen sang special ragas that would gently awaken the Emperor.

  There are many stories told about the power of Tansen's music. It is said that when Tansen sang, birds and animals would gather to hear him.

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