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Taansen

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Taansen
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Taansen or Miyaan Taansen or Raamtanu Paandey (1493 or 1506 1586 or 1589) is considered among the greatest composer-musicians in Hindustaanee classical music of Akbar's court. He was an extraordinarily gifted vocalist, known for a large number of compositions, and also an instrumentalist who popularized and improved the Rabab (of Central Asian origin). He was one of the Nava Ratna (nine gems) at the court of Akbar. Akbar gave him the title Miyaan (an honorific, meaning learned man).

Very less is known about him historically, but this much is sure that he was born into a Hindu Brahmin family, possibly in 1506; possibly in the village Behat near Gwaalior. His father Mukund Mishraa was a poet and accomplished musician, who for some time was a temple priest in Vaaraanasee. Taansen's name as a child was Raamtanu and his father used to call him by the name of Tannaa. Almost all Gharaanaas (families) of Hindustaanee classical music claim some connection with the Taansen lineage. According to legend, he was noted for his imitations of animal calls and birdsong.

He was the disciple of Swaamee Haridaas, the legendary composer from Vrindaa Van and part of the stellar Gwaalior court of Raajaa Maansingh Tomar (1486-1516 AD), specializing in the Dhrupad style of singing. One legend has that once Haridaas was passing through the forests when the five-year old Raamtanu's imitation of a tiger impressed the musician saint. Another version is that his father sent him to Haridaas to learn music. From Haridaas, Taansen acquired not only his love for Dhrupad but also his interest in compositions in the local language.
In any event, Taansen went to Muhammad Gaus who eventually became his spiritual mentor. He also married Husseinee (literally beautiful one). The burial of Taansen in his Sheikh's mausoleum is thought to indicate proof of his conversion to the path of his spiritual guide. Taansen was also influenced by other singers in the Gwaalior court and also the musically proficient queen, Mriganayanee, whose romance with the King of Gwaalior had been forged on her singing; she remained a friend even after the death of the Raajaa. Other contemporary musician at Gwaalior was Baijoo Baavaraa.

Eventually, he joined the court of King Raamachandra Baghelaa of Rewaa, India, where he remained from 1555-1562. It appears that the Mugal emperor Akbar heard of his prowess and sent his emissary Jalaaluddeen Qurchee to Raamachandra, who had little choice but to acquiesce, and Taansen went to Akbar's court in 1562. Another legend is that Akbar's daughter Meharunnisaa was enamored by Taansen and had a role in his coming to Akbar's court. So Taansen joined Akbar's court and eventually became one of the treasured Nava Ratna of his court. It was Akbar who gave him the honorific title Miyaan, and he is usually referred to today as Miyaan Taansen. Legend has it that in his first performance, he was gifted one lakh (100,000) gold coins.

The fort at Fatehpur Seekaree is strongly associated with Taansen's tenure at Akbar's court. Near the emperor's chambers, a pond was built with a small island in the middle, where musical performances were given. Today, this tank, called Anoop Talaao (Anoop Taalaab), can be seen near the public audience hall Deevaan-e-Aam - a central platform reachable via four footbridges. It is said that Taansen would perform different ragas at different times of the day, and the emperor and his select audience would honor him with coins. Taansen's alleged residence is also nearby.

The legendary musical prowess of Taansen surpasses all other legends in Indian music. In terms of influence, he can be compared only to the prolific Soofee composer Ameer Khusro (1253-1325), or to Bhakti tradition composers such as Kabeer or Haridaas. Several of his Raag compositions have become mainstays of the Hindustaanee tradition, and these are often prefaced with Miyaan kee ("of the Miyaan"), eg Miyaan kee Todee, Miyaan kee Malhaar, Miyaan kee Mand, Miyaan kaa Saarang etc. In addition, he is the creator of several major Raag like Darbaaree Kaanadaa, Darbaaree Todee, and Rageshwaree etc. Taansen had four sons and a daughter, Tanras Khaan, Bilaas Khaan, Hameersen, Suratsen and Saraswatee Devee - all musicians; Bilaas Khaan created Raag Bilaaskhaanee Todee.

His daughter was also a great musician. Among the most known legend about Taansen is that "It is said that once Akbar expressed his wish to see the wonder of Taansen's music that he could ignite lamps with his music. Taansen warned him that it was risky, but Akbar did not listen to him. So he sang Deepak Raag in the evening. First the courtiers started feeling heat, and in due course of time the lamp got ignited. Akbar was so mesmerized with this event that he did not stop Taansen's singing. He continued listening his music. The heat rose so much that a fire broke in the court. Taansen continued singing and the fire was spreading. Now Akbar came into senses and asked his courtiers to put out the fire. They told him that that fire could only be extinguished by his daughter. She was also a great singer. She was called immediately. She sang Megh Malhaar Raag which brought rains and cooled down the fire.

Other legends tell of his ability to bring wild animals to listen with attention (or to talk their language). Once, a wild white elephant was captured, but it was fierce and could not be tamed. Finally, Tansen sang to the elephant who calmed down and then only the emperor was able to ride him.

 

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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
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Updated on 11/10/12