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The Humble Disciple

The Humble Disciple


I vividly remember that year when grand pa and Choco-Dadu came to visit me during monsoon. Rains in hills are always beautiful. I must say, those who have not been in hills during rain have missed out something. Seek for any opportunity if you can enjoy the charm at least for once.


Anyhow, the old old-youths came to me and spent a week end with me. I was away from hostel with them in a hotel nearby with special permission. I remember, it rained in that session for the first time after a long summer. My grandpa was telling me about Tansen, the God gifted singer. He was asked by the Emperor Akbar to sing the Deepak Raga. Deepak Raga was one of the most difficult ragas to sing. Besides, so much heat would be caused by a perfect rendering of this raga that not only would lamps alight, but the singer's body too would burn to ashes.

When Akbar asked Tansen to sing Deepak Raga Tansen pleaded, "Sire, Deepak Raga can set the singer himself on fire. But the Emperor would not listen. "If you are the greatest singer in the land, you must accept this challenge," insisted Emperor Akbar.

Tansen knew that singing Deepak Raga was dangerous, but he also knew that if Megh Malhar raga, which brings the rain, could be sung at the same time; he would be saved from the fury of fire. And thus he maintained the balance by singing these two ragas


 As I was very keen to know more of his stories, he told me a beautiful story of his guru ji. Grand pa started narrating this way:


“Slowly, gently, the exhausted musician laid his tanpura on the carpet. The exquisite strains of raag darbari still vibrated within the hall. Emperor Akbar looked up, his eyes lit with admiration. "Wonderful!" he said. "Superb! I listen to you every day, but I can't seem to have enough!"

Tansen bowed in silent gratitude.

"I think you have the most wonderful voice in the world!" said Akbar.

"But I don't, Shahenshah!" said Tansen with a smile. "There is someone who sings far better than I do."

"Really?" cried the disbelieving Akbar. "Then I must have him sing in my court. Can you arrange it?"

Tansen shook his head. "I'm afraid he will not come, Jahapana."

"What! Not even if he hears that the emperor himself summoned him?"

"No, not even then."

This reply would have enraged any other emperor. But Akbar was different. "Very well, Ustadji," said Akbar, smiling into Tansen's half-scared eyes. "If he doesn't come, I shall go to him myself. Will you take me to him?"

"Sure, provided you do not come as the emperor of Hindustan."

"I shall go as a humble lover of music."

Sant Haridas was the man Tansen had spoken of. He had been Tansen's music teacher, and he lived the austere life of a hermit. When Tansen and the emperor reached his hut, he was busy with his daily chores. When they asked him to sing, he smiled but said firmly, "I am long past the age for singing." Even his favourite pupil could not persuade him to change his mind.

But Tansen knew how to get round him. He offered to sing before his guru. And he made a deliberate mistake. "That's not the right note, Tansen, you know It." cried his teacher, amazed. "What has happened to you today?"

Tansen did not seem to understand his teacher and he made the same mistake again. Exasperated, Sant Haridas took the tanpura from Tansen's hands and sang the right note. Then he went on to the next and the next! He then had no control on his music.

The melody of his voice spread across the forest, like the first glimmer of dawn or the fragrance of jasmine. Both Akbar and Tansen listened to him as if they were hypnotized, and the emperor realized that Tansen had spoken the truth. He had not known that music could be like this! He had certainly never heard anything like it before. It seemed that the music came from far off heaven as the gift of God.

As they walked back, the emperor suddenly broke the silence to ask Tansen humbly, "You have learnt from him for so many years and you are his best student. Then why can't you sing like him, Ustadji?"

Tansen smiled. "Shahenshah, I sing at your command - the command of the emperor of Hindustan. It is to serve you, to satisfy you, to feel you happy and also to arrange the basic needs for my family. I am bounded by so many invisible ropes of duties. I am not so free to sing. But Guru Ji sings for one who is king of kings! His music springs from the depths of his soul, free and unasked for. How can my music hope to reach those heights?"