mentioned, the singer and instrumentalist Tansen (or Tan Sen,
or Tanasena), was the most prominent musician in the court of
the Mughal Emperor Akbar. There are various mentions of him in
writings of the Mughal period, so that his actual existence is
itself a certainty. Distinct ragas said to have been created
by himMiyan ki Malhar and Darbariare illustrated on
these Web pages, while other ragas said to be of his creation
include Miyan ki Todi and Miyan ki Sarang. There is also at least
one Mughal miniature said to be an accurate portrait of Tansen.
One of the most interesting aspects of this now legendary figure
is the manner in which he embodies the composite Hindu-Muslim
culture of the Mughal period. While his name is clearly Hindu,
the attachment of the Muslim title Miyan indicates both
respect and affection (God himself is often referred to as Allah
Miyan), and gives some credence to the possibility of his having
converted to Islam at some point in his life. Tansen is said to
have had two wivesone Hindu, the other Muslimand of
the three sons cited in historical accounts, two have Muslim names
and one a Hindu name.
numerous popular accounts of Tansen's musical abilities. It is
said that he could charm the beasts of the forest with his singing.
Another story existing in variant accounts tells of how the Emperor
ordered him to sing the rare raga Dipakthe raga of fire. Tansen,
fearing for the consequences, demurred, but when the Emperor insisted
and he began to sing, his body began to be consumed with fever.
One version has Tansen having to sing immersed in the river up
to his neck to prevent his being consumed by fire; another has
him having to sing the raga which he is said to have created for
the rainy season (Miyan ki Malhar) immediately afterwards to bring
down the horrific fever generated by the previous raga.
to contemporary accounts, Akbar's opinion of Tansen was so high
that he insisted a procession of musicians, singing and playing
the while, accompany the body to the graveyard in the manner of
a wedding procession.
At least one
of Tansen's sonsBilas Khanwas also a musician. The story is
told of how a number of musicians were asked by the Emperor to
sing after Tansen's death, and when Bilas Khan sang his own new
version of the raga Todi, the spirit of the deceased father was
so pleased with his son's rendition that the head of Tansen's
lifeless body moved from side to side in the conventional Indian
gesture of appreciation; to this day, Raga Bilaskhani Todi is
one of the most popular of morning ragas.
Brian Q. Silver