One of the nau-ratnas (nine jewels) in the court of Emperor Akbar, Tansen was born around 1505 AD near Gwalior.Though a Hindu by birth, the 'Sangeet Samrat' was also a believer in Islam. He was a disciple of Sufi Saint Sheikh Muhammad Ghaus, and after his death the great musician was buried near his spiritual master's mazaar.
The annual Tansen Cultural Festival started in Gwalior recently. The four day long event was inaugurated with Hari Katha, Milad and recital of verses from Holy Quran, as per the age-old tradition.
The bhajan 'Ek raaii ke hazaar hisse, us mein bhii Khudaa basey' was sung. After Naat Sharif and Qawwali, the 'chaadar' was ceremonially brought to the Mazaar of Sufi Saint Muhammad Ghaus. With 'chaadar-poshi' on Miyan Tansen's mazaar, the function started.
Tansen's real name was Ramtanu Pandey. He learnt music under the tutelage of Saint Hari Das, also a Bhakti Sant. (The painting above shows him in the company of his guru Sant Hari Das and the Emperor Akbar). It is commonly believed that this singer-instrumentalist could bring rains with Raga Megha Malhar and candles would light immediately when he started singing the Deepak Raga.
Even till the early part of 20th century, it said that were a couple of exponents who could turn a a place warmer with the raga. Truly Tansen's Ragas laid the foundation of Classical Hindustani music and all the mausiqui (sangeet) gharanas of India trace their linkage to him. Tansen is the most important person in creating the genre of classical North Indian music. Abul Fazl called him the greatest musician since Bharat, the son of King Dhushyant and Shakuntala.
Legend has it that his Pir Ghaus had placed a drop of paan juice from his mouth on the child Tannu's tongue. And the boy after receiving the blessing went on to become be the Emperor of music.
Five centuries have elapsed but the tamarind tree (Imli) under the shade of which he practiced music, still stands though it has dried down and there were plans to cut it recently, which met resistance.
KL Saigal came to Gwalior and tasted the leaves of the tree. Tansen popularised rubab. He created dhrupad style of Hindustani vocal music and invented ragas like Miyan ki Tori, Mian ki Malhar and raga darbari. This great composer musician died in 1589. His tomb is in Gwalior and every year the Sangeet Samaroh is held in his memory. (The photo of Tansen's tomb on the left. The tomb of Mohammad Ghous is close to it)
Tansen had both Hindu and Muslim wives. In Gwalior court, the legendary Queen Mrignayani got friendly to him. Also, there are tales about his affair with Akbar's daughter Mehrunnisa. In popular folklore Baiju Bawra is considered another musician of the era who challenged Tansen and they had a musical duel in the court of Akbar.
Listen to some of Tansen's ragas sung by modern musicians.