Indian Music and Mian Tansen

by Pandit Birendra Kishore Roy Choadhury




[chapter 3]

During the epoch of the most glorious period of the Moghul Empire the musical culture of North India rose to the Zenith. Mian Tansen, the greatest disciple of the saint and musical seer, Swami Haridas of Vrindaban, was the central figure around whom a renaissance of Hindusthani music took place. The new features added during this period could never be brushed aside, for in the teaching of Tansen could be found the key that incorporated and federated the musical arts of India and the Middle East through a rhythmic pattern that was however India's own creation. In the past, the spirit of this synthesis had incorporated Greek and Arabian melody types into the Indian scheme. The creation of such a scheme was a triumph for the musical genius of India. This was the ancient spiritual ideal of India of creating unity in diversity. In fact, this is the cosmic way, so to say, and as such its long history in the practical concerns of Indian achievements is a matter of supreme interest for the world. Mr. Fox Strangways is right when he says, "India has had time to forget more melodies than Europe has had time to learn."

I propose to furnish an outline of the traditional gifts of the Tansen school of music of which little is known till now to the world at large. This school although based on the inspiration of Indian Rishis, drew materials to enrich itself from the music of Arabia and Persia.

I have come into touch with the original sources of the teachings of Tansen handed down through generations of his descendants.

The royal courts of Rampur and Jaipur which patronised and respectfully retained the descendants of Mian Tansen estabilished the teachings of his School. The Nawabs of Rampur were themselves great connoisseurs of music. The late Nawabs Haider Ali Khan, Hamid Ali Khan and Chhamman Saheb were great masters of vocal and instrumental music and had in their Darbar the immortal Bahadur Hossainn Khan, Sangeet Nayak Wazir Khan (the Guru of Allauddin Khan) and Mohammed Ali Khan of the Tansen line. Wazir Khan himself was not only a great musician but was also great musicologist who wrote the Risala Mousibi, a voluminous work with notations. Chhamman Saheb also wrote several valuable manuscripts including Risala Tansen, Nurul Hawdayak and on the philosophy of music, all of which are carefully preserved in the court of the late H. H. Nawab of Rampur. Being a disciple of the late Mohammad Ali Khan and also of the son of Wazir Khan, I have received the original teachings contained in these works.

Among the Seni musicians, that is, the descendants of Tansen of the 19th and 20th centuries, we find two mighty figures who were given the title "Sangeet Nayaka" by the royal courts. In the 19th century, Basat Khan, the celebrated vocalist and Veena player,was an outstanding figure who trained many disciples and wrote some valuable books on music. The famous work "Nagamat-e-Asarhi" contained his teachings. Another book named "Nagamat-e-Niamat" written by the great sarodiya Niamatullah Khan who was one of his disciples, contains his musical theories. Md. Ali Khan who was my Guru, was the second son of Basat Khan. He and Wazir Khan flourished during the earlier part of this century and the latter trained Allauddin Khan, Mustaque Hussain Khan and Hafez Ali Khan. The immortal Pandit Bhatkande also took initiation from him in Seni music.

I have found complete identity of views in the teachings of Basat Khan and Wazir Khan in the theories of Hindusthani music. Both of them have propagated the basic principles on which the entire structure of music of Tansen and his descendants stands. The tradition of Tansen brings us in close touch with the Iegcendary origin of the Indian music as rich as well as the historical accounts given by Sarangadeva.

The theories of Tansen accept the view of the Sangita Ratnakara that Brahma created the Marga style of music out of the contents of the Samaveda which used to call the learning of music as the Nadavidya, the embodiment of the eternal spirit. The God Mahadeva was the original teacher of this Vidya and Parvati and Sarasvati received this divine knowledge from him. The mention of God Ganesa, Narada , Hanuman come next. The celestial beings of the heaven that is the lesser gods, Ghandharvas, Kinnaras and the celestial nymphs learned this divine music from Narada and Hanuman. In the teachings of Tansen we find accounts of the Puranic personalities like Ravana, Valmiki, Lava, Kusha, Hanuman, Arjuna and others. Then there are references of Bharata, Matanga, Sarangadeva and Kallinatha.

Tansen based his theories of music according to the Shiv Mata and the Hanuman Mata in which the expositions of the characteristics of the six main Ragas namely (1) Bhairav (2) Malkosh (3) Hindol (4) Shree (5) Megh (6) Dipak and their Raginis and the Raga Putras were given. In Sanskrit works like Sangitadarpana correlation of the ragas with Raginis seems to be based on imaginary grounds or fictions. But both Basat Khan and Wazir Khan in their musical manuscripts, have rearranged the relations between Ragas and Raginis which they ascribed to Tansen's theories in a way satisfying both reason and science. These two great musicians accepted the theory of twelve Melas and showed that the six main Ragas belonged to the six main Melas and there was correlation between the Ragas and Raginis according to the similarities of Melas, Vadi, Samvadi and Amsa Swaras. Later on Pandit Bhatkande established the theories of ten Thats of the Hindusthani Sangit Paddhati. Bhatkhande also became the disciple of Wazir Khan and collected many Dhrupads of the Tansen School.

Tansen was acclaimed by Empeor Akbar as the greatest musician of India after the age of Bharata. We find evidence to this in the work of Abul Fazal. The descendants of Tansen expressed the view that the musical teachings of Tansen, especially those on the structure of the Ragas, have been carried down through lines of the Gurus and disciples. Tansen himself was a disciple of Baba Ramdas of Oadh and Svami Haridasji of Vrindaban, both of whom regarded God Siva as the creator and Hanuman as the propagators of Ragas and Raginis. Tansen also assimilated some of the basic principles of the of the Middle East.

The origin of the Arabic and the Persian music may be traced from Greece. But it should be remembered that the Greeks were indebted to Egypt on the one hand and India on the other for the development of their philosophy, music, science and the various arts. Tansen however received the influence of the Arabic and Persian music from Mohammed Ghous, the celebrated Pir of Gwalior who was also one of the spiritual guides of Tansen. Tansen was the son of a Gaudiya Brahniin of Benaras and was initiated by Haridas Svamii in the Brahma Vidya and Nada Vidya and later on was initiated by the Pir of Gwalior in the cult of sufism. Although by his marriage with a Muslim lady he embraced the Islamic religion, he did not forsake the teachings of the Vedic cult ; rather he combined the philosophical principles and the practices of the Vedas and the Bhakti Sastra of India with the Sufi cult of Persia. The songs composed by him bear evidence of his true devotion to the gods and "avataras" of India as well as to the prophet Mohammed. Regarding the traditions of the music of the Middle East which inspired Tansen, we find the following account in the manuscripts of Wazir Khan.

About the origin and history or legends of music, the ancient Persians believed that this art had originated from the melodious notes of a bird which they called Mausiqar. The beak of the bird has seven holes in it and through each hole it used to sound a different note. This ultimately led to the foundation of seven fundamental notes.

The Persians and the Arabic scholars mention the name of Pythagoras as the first authentic writer on music. Pythagoras wrote a book entitled Mausike in the Greek language in about 500 B. C. Mou in Greek means air and sike means knot and the word mousike meant "tying a knot in the air". Persians and Arabs call music, "Mousike", Pythagoras was known as a student of Sankhya Philosohpy and many believe that he learnt also the fundamental principles of Indian music.

After Pythagoras, we find mentioned in the traditions of Tansen's School, the name of Aras-Ta-Talis of the Greek period who had three Arabic disciples who were both musicians and physicians: (1) Hakim Sukharat, Hakim Bokharat, and (3) Hakim Jalinus.

During the reign of King Marun Rashid of Persia, Mutirbin-Kundi, was a renowned musicologist who followed the traditions of the three Hakims mentioned above and translated the work of Pythagoras into Arabic. The great sage Abu Ali Sina then gave it a practical shape.

During the reign of Khalifa Harun Al Rashid of Baghdad the Arabians got free from the taboo on music and several Arabic musicians like (1) Sayeb (2) Ashib (3) Tyayib (4) Nasir (5) Ibrahim Bin Musli and (6) Ishakh Bin-Ibrahim emerged on the scene.

The Pir Saheb of Gwalior who was one of the Masters of Tansen school received the knowledge of this line which flourished in Arabia. The Arabic inspiration of this line shines as the milky way in the firmament of Tansen music.

Hazarat Md. Ghouse, however, was not the earliest exponent of Persian and Arabic music in India The influence of Turkish music had been carried to the Northern parts in India by the Sakas and the Hun tribes even in the Hindu period. The music of Turkistan was similar to that of Persia. Later on during the Pathan period Amir Khusru, the renowned poet and musician, introduced the Persian system of music in the Delhi Durbar. He composed numerous songs in the Persian style known as "Kwawali". The Persian system was based on the theory of the twelve Moquamis ( Main Ragas ), twenty-four Subhas ( Raginis ) and forty-eight Gussas ( Uparagas ). Amir Khusru composed also many new Ragas by combining the tunes of India and Persia.

Baiju Bawra, a musician saint who was a contemporary of Amir Khusru, created the Dhrupad style of Hindusthani music in accordance with the lines of Sanskrit "Prabandhas" and "Dhruva gitis." Baiju Bawra was an exponent of theory of Ragas and Raginis. But the Dhrupad Paddhati introduced by him, although it received the highest respect in the temple of music, never held a dominant position in the courts of Pathan Emperors who placed the Kwawaii system in a position superior to that of the Dhrupad Paddhati.

After the fall of the Pathan Empire, Raja Man-Tomar of Gwalior established a musical association in his court and retained four great musicians, (a) Bham, (b) Charju, (c) Dhundhibar and (d) Chanchal Sashi who were given the title 'Sangita Nayaka'. With their co-operation Raja Man revived the glory of the Dhrupad-system of music and gave it a status superior to that of the Kwawali.

The Pir Ghouse of Gwalior was a friend of the Raja and although he imbibed the Persian culture in music and religion, he accepted the Dhrupad-system of Indian music and was also an admirer of the Bhakti cult of India.

At that time Swami Haridas of Vrindaban was regarded as a great saint and musical genius of remarkable creative power. He followed the style of Baiju but gave an extremely melodious and colourful style of presentation of Dhruvapada music. As Tansen's musical genius was developed by his direct teachings it was evident that Tansen would become an exponent of the Dhruvapada Style. In fact, the Pir of Gwalior also encouraged Tansen to develop the Dhruvapada style although he made him well versed in Persian music. Thus Tansen based all his musical creations on the Dhruvapada Paddhati while assimilating some beautiful forms of the Persian music.

Akbar the Great made the ideal of his policy to combine the different cultures of India. Tansen as the Guru of Akbar followed the same ideal in the creation of his music, both the Emperor and Tansen raised the status of Dhruvapada as the highest expression of music. Thus in the Mogul court unlike the Pathan Court the Kwawali type of music, was given only a secondary position. Akbar established an association of nine gems of musicians (Navaratna) with Tansen as its leader. Tansen created many new ragas which, uptill now, are regarded as the foremost ragas of Northern India. Some of these are noteworthy, e.g. Darbari Kanada,Darbari Todi,Miya ki Malhar, Miya ki Sarang etc. Tansen composed about one thousand Dhruvapadas which are even now remembered not only for the wonderful exposition of the Ragas contained in them but also for their very high poetic value. There are many songs of devotion to the Supreme Divine and also to the Gods. We find also many outstanding songs composed by him in praise of the Kings and the Emperors. And these songs contain remarkable synthesis of the Vedanta, the Bhakti Sastra and the mysticism of the Sufi cult.

Tansen reshaped the entire of Dhruvapada music by the addition of new ornamentations in Meend, Gamaka etc. which were lacking in them. His songs had special charms and emotional appeal. As the Guru of Akbar, he received the highest honour from all and established a permanent school of Dhruvapada music. In the field of instrumental music also he had valuable contributions in the development of the Rabab ( Rudra-Veena ) and the Hinduathani Saraswat Veena. It is remarkable that his music was kept bright in the line of his descendants also.

From the period of Akbar upto the beginning of the present century the descendants of Tansen who were called Seni musicians were regarded as authorities on Hindusthani classical music. Some of his descendants created new Ragas which have permanent value, e.g., Vilaskhani Todi, Tilak-Kamod, Puria Kalyan, Kausiki Kanada etc.

These musicians preserved and developed the Dhruvapada music introduced by Tansen containing the four Banis or styles : (1) Gouhar Bani containing melodious sliding notes. (2) Dagar Bani containing melodious Gamakas and curved lines. (3) Khander Bani with quick vibrations. (5) Naohar Bani with jumpy notes. These Banis contained five main Rasas: (1) Santa (2) Sringara (3) Karuna (4) Vira and (5) Abdhuta. The classical instrumental music of Northern India was also developed on the same lines through the instruments, the Veena, the Rabab, Surasringar and Sitar. The celebrated musician, Shah Sadarang was also a descendant of Tansen and it was he who invented the Hinduathani classical Kheyal by combining the techniques of the Dhruvapada and the Kwawali with the system of Ragas following the tradition of Dhruvapada.

Now-a-days we come across many musicians who claim to belong to different schools of music of the North. But all these schools were founded by musicians who were directly or indirectly the disciples of some descendant of Tansen. Thus what we know about the classical Hindusthani Music, is originated from the line of Tansen. If we sincerely aspire to revive the glory of the classical music of the North, we have to turn our attention to researches on the music of Tansen's line and for that purpose the establishment of centre for research on the Tansen School of music is urgently required.

Pt. Birendra Kishore Roy Choadhury - bio
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