Somewhere 1600 A.D.
In the Court of Akbar
It was late evening, the third prahar of the day, and the ministers and the court members along with the Navratnas were waiting for Akbar in Deewan-E-Khaas. The lanterns were lit low to give a warm and dim background which was set up for the Manoranjan-entertainment of Lord Akbar. On the Jharukhas- windows above the court were waiting the queens and other important mistresses-Daasis who ought to be the part of Deewan-E-Khaas address of that day.
The main guard near the entrance of Deewan-E-Khaas proclaimed the welcome when Lord Akbar appeared to be approaching the entrance. “Shehenshaah-E-Hind Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar is now arriving in the court meeting of Deewan-E-Khaas”. The entire forum stands up in respect greeting the presence of their King, their Lord Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar. The chief of army stood up in attention saluting Akbar who took his entry along with his main queen Mariam-Uz-Zamani followed by a mistress and four sepoys-guards. While the king along with his queen walked over the Shahi carpet and took their seats on to the mega-throne at the centre of the court, the chief of army proclaimed proudly “The Deewan-E-Khaas welcomes Shehanshah-E-Hind” and greeted the king of India with a welcome note.
Once Akbar and Mariam-Uz-Zamani had seated in their place, the entire forum took their seats followed by the queens and the mistresses behind the Parda in Jharukha-window. The chief of army took his seat, who was followed by the main minister who stood up and bowed down to the king and began to brief the king along with the court with the agenda for their meeting then in the Deewan-E-Khaas. “I welcome King Akbar and everyone present here. We have met here in Deewan-E-Khaas in the third prahar phase of the day. We have gathered here for the Manoranjan of the King and her highness and hence the court. We begin by presenting the Swagat-Nritya Welcome dance, the requested and much awaited dialogue of Akbar with his one of the Navratna-Birbal and ending the meeting with Raag-Deepak to be presented by Tansen on a long pending special request of Lord Akbar”
After the briefings of the minister, the programme started with the welcome dance which mesmerized the audience in a fantasy. The enthrall and the joy was evident from the subtle smile of Akbar and the queen. It took everyone’s attention and each one of them was engrossed in the colourful picture of joy. However among all, there was one person who didn’t seem to be at peace. Amid the atmosphere of joy, what went unnoticed was a sign of discomfort and uneasiness on the expressions of Taansen-the musician among the Navratnas of Akbar.
The programme continued and cajoled everyone with the witty encounter of Akbar with Birbal and reached its climax. The main minister rose up and announced “Dear Lord, Now let me welcome Tansen-the sangeet Navratna-musician among the nine jewels of Akbar. On the long awaited request of Jahanpanah, today Tansen will be presenting the mystic Raag Deepak”
Tansen rose and came in the front , bowed down in respect to his king and sat down on the round red carpet formed in the middle. A mistress brought the instruments including the Tanpura* of Tansen. All the wax candles and the diyas were burnt off. The atmosphere was dark. The only source of light that came was from the main Mashal* which was burning on the side of the throne of the king.
In the dark, the king broke the silence “Dear Tansen, I am glad that you are going to satiate my wish to listen Raag Deepak from you. I am sure your maestro riaz and Sur is definitely going to enlighten the court and spread the pure light of divinity. Go on my dear friend.”
After the king’s humble address to Tansen, Tansen was touched. He was determined to sing come what may. He nervously responded his king “Jahanpanah, your wish is my command. I will definitely try to give my best today. I hope my god of music supports me.”
Feeling the nervousness in Tansen’s voice, Akbar responeded immediately “Tansen, is there any problem you may like to share with me? Or is it my doubt that in this dark I am unable read your face. Why are you sounding so nervous? This has never happened before.”
Tansen gathered the courage and replied with a firm voice “No Lord! Everything is the same and normal. I shall begin now”
Tansen closed his eyes and quietly chanted some mantras and prayed to his god. He then began the mighty and mystic raag Deepak. As the singing progressed, it started with its first effect by lighting up a small diya besides the the throne of Queen. Mariam-Uz-Zamani was happy and delighted. The king acknowledged her in response. Seemingly, it started to lit up every single diya in the court. The singing of Tansen as usual was nothing less than masterpiece and pure but the effect that it had spread across that evening was mesmerizing. As the music reached the climax, entire court was already decorated with innumerable diyas and lamps which was never a view like this before. King Akbar was more than pleased and started gazing at Tansen in awe and praise.
Tansen continued the singing but the discomfort on his face was increasing. It no longer was unnoticeable and Akbar got a sense of it. Tansen’s eyes were closed but an expression of pain was clearly evident his face. Soon the audience could see his skin turning red.
King stood up immediately and approached climbing down towards Tansen. He roared loudly “Tansen, stop!” Everyone was taken aback. Tansen broke his singing and opened his eyes and found his Jahanpanah standing very next to him. He tried to stand up but could not move. Akbar gave him a hand and signaled the helpers to bring aasana for Tansen.
King continued “Tansen, are you not feeling well? Why is your skin turning red? ?” Tansen could barely speak an mumbled while saying “It is the effect of Raag Deepak… Lord. The body starts to burn from inside along with the lamps and diyas”
The anger was evident from Akbar’s temple. Queen was shocked already and everyone present there could hardly move. King continued with deep concern and apology in his voice “Tansen, when you knew it before about this after effect,why didn’t you tell me the same upfront?” King abruptly commanded “Minister, please call Vaid ji”
Tansen mumbled “Jahanpanah, your wish is my command. I cannot dare or wish to say no to it. It is my pleasure to please you sir” Kings eyes were filled with pain and he roared “Vaid ji, Please come to Deewan-E-Khaas”
Tansen again mumbled “Vaid ji won’t help.. it’s only Raag Megh Malhar that can do”
Birbal soon presented one of the music team members of Tansen and continued quickly “Lord, I enquired about this. No remedy and medical treatment can cure Tansen’s pain. He will continue to have this burning sensation. The only remedy is Raag Megh Malhar”
King asked the members of Tansen’s music Mandali “Why can’t any of you sing that now!”
They dared to speak but Birbal interrupted “Lord, no one from them holds that expertise unlike Tansen. Tansen can be cured only if some maestro singer of his equivalent level of expertise and purity can sing Raag Megh Malhar. Raag Megh malhar if sung with that purity and distinctiveness can produce rains. Tansen’s body can only be healed by the water of those rains. “ Birbal bowed in front of Akbar apologetically.
Akbar was tensed. The expression of helplessness was visible on his face. He immediately commanded “Where can we find that maestro singer? Birbal !” He ranted “I want Tansen to be fine at the earliest.”
Birbal replied in sorrow “Sir, we are not aware where can we find such a maestro singer”
Akbar commanded “Then we certainly have to find. Take one of the army convoy along with Tansen and search across country. There must be some maestro singer who can help our man, my Tansen” His voice in command yet in pain. The helpers along with Vaid ji, took Tansen out of Deewan-E-Khaas and it was followed by King and the Queen.
The minister rose to address the rest of the audience as Akbar left the place “We now adjourn the proceedings of Deewan-E-Khaas for today”
Somehwere 1600A.D. In the village of Vadnagar (now in Gujarat, India)
“Sharmishtha ben… Are the twin ready?” A voice knocked the door
Sharmishtha, draped in Red and green Bandhani Sari, came out to see who has come on her door. It was early morning, and the sun was about to rise. Sharmishtha had just finished her bathing and her puja. She approached to the main gate from her small garden in front of their house where she had decoratively kept earthen pots, few plants and well paved sideway with a Banyan tree protecting their low lying house with its humongous shade.
She opened the small gate and popped her face out and gratified to the person standing there “Oh pujari ji! Welcome! Suprabhat!” It was their Hatkeshwar-Main shiv temple’s main Pujari ji who had knocked their door early that morning.
“Suprabhat Sharmishtha! I am going to the temple now and was wondering if I can take the girls along. Where are they?” Pujari asked
Sharmishtha responded in her sweet voice “Pujari ji, Tana-Riri are just getting ready. I will send them right away to the temple as soon as they get ready.” Saying this, Pujari ji nodded and proceeded on his way to temple.
Tana-Riri were the twin daughters of Sharmishtha who lived in Vadnagar along with them and her husband. Her twin daughters Tana-Riri were the jewel of their parents and too of the Village. The family of Sharmishtha belonged to Nagar community who were considered learned and highly qualified at that time.The twin sisters were considered expert in singing and used to do their sangeet aradhana Music riaz every day in front of their idol of the deity at Shiv temple Hatkeshwar in vadnagar.
“Maa… “ A sweet and small voice came from the kitchen. It was Tana calling her mother from the kitchen. She was young girl, fair in complexion, sharp featured and dressed in Pink coloured golden bordered Chaniya -long skirt and similar coloured blouse with a parrot green Pachhedo -a dupatta. She was drinking water from the pot when Sharmishtha came in.
“What happened Tana? Where is Riri? Arent you both getting late for the puja? Pujari ji was already calling you long back” Sharmishtha uttered hastily.
“Maa.. Riri is the one who is making it late. I already told her that we will be late and might cross the Puja Muhurat. Pujari ji will be really angry” Tana chuckled
“I am here Tana… Maa….Let’s go” Riri called from outside the gate. She had the same features as her twin sister Tana. Same face, same structure. She was dressed in blue blouse and similar skirt with golden border and a Cream Pachhedo-dupatta.
Sharmishtha called out “Both of you, where are your Vajintras?” Sharmishtha was asking them for their musical instruments.
“Maa… we had left them in the temple yesterday after the evening Aarti” Riri replied
Sharmishtha nodded and three of them left hastily for the temple.
The temple was huge and old Hatkeshwar-Lord Shiva temple carved with scriptures and figures on it. The villagers had gathered there for their morning Aarti. As Tana-Riri entered the temple with their mother, both of them were greeted by everyone along with Pujari ji who was waiting there.
They bowed down and touched Pujari ji’s feet and Pujari ji, bestowed them saying “Ayushmaan Bhava”
“Hope we are not late” Tana said apologetically.
“No dear, you are on time. Let’s begin the Aarti” Pujari ji assured Tana and lighted the Aarti thaal -the plate of aarti with numerous diyas in it.
Tana and Riri sat in Padmasan, their hands folded in front of the idol of deity and started the stuti.
Everyone there folded their hands and prayed. The atmosphere became sacred as Tana-Riri began their stuti. It was mesmerizing. Everyone were in their state of meditation. The birds had stopped their chirping. The winds had lowered the breeze. The temple bells started to tune and ring along with the Tanpura tune played by the twin sisters. It appeared as if their music is driving the world for a moment there.
Finally the girls ended their Stuti and bowed down to Namaskar to their god. The bells stopped ringing, the sounds came to normalcy. Pujari ji came close to the sisters who had stood up besides their mother and said “The many more times I say this to you will be less in comparison to the Vardaan-blessings that you have got from your forefather Narsinh Mehta. You both are blessed.”
Riri replied in gratitude “It is all that we have received in blessing from elders and our god. It is God’s presence which makes you feel so, we are just normal singers otherwise.”
Everyone was touched by their humble gesture.
Pujari ji proclaimed the audience “Nagar jano, Prabhat Aarti Samapt. It is the end of the morning Aarti. We gather again today in the evening.”
Tana Riri clasped the hands of their mother “Maa.. Let’s go. Hurry up! Pitaji must be waiting for us.” Tana said dragging her mother towards their home.”We need to Riaz as well and then the Vidyalaya-schooltime” Riri continued
Sharmishtha responded “Yes girls. Let’s go.”
On the way, mothers and daughters were chit chatting when Sharmishtha reminded her daughters by taking them in embrace “Tana-Riri, my girls! You are really blessed with the Surs from my grand father and your grand grand father Narsinh Mehta. It is all the blessing of him and our god. Promise me, you will never ever sing or showcase your talent in front of anyone else but our God and our community. You are not made for anyone else’s entertainment. The blessings to you are only meant to worship and to make other’s lives better if it Is needed. This art, the way you sing and the bells start ringing, the hymns that we listen, the rains from your Raag Malhar are not natural and are gifted and has come with great practice and riaz that you do. Please promise me you will never showcase it to others for just a purpose of entertainment or pleasure. “
“We promise Maa… We already have that vow.“ The girls were serious then.
The days passed and the village of Vadnagar witnessed different levels of Raagas and their supernatural effects in the form of their worship to god. The talent of the girls was now not only limited to Vadnagar but it has spread far across the other cities like Ahmedabad and beyond. The girls had often received requests to sing in a forum in front of many dignitaries but they had always denied to the requests owing to the vow and promise that they had taken.
Like any other day, the village had gathered in the Prangan-the ground outside the temple for their evening Aarti.
There was some time before the Aarti Muhurat and everyone was discussing their daily lives and village gossips when a huge Chariot arrived in front of them. The village Mukhiya – the ruler of Vadnagar had accompanied the persons in the Chariot. They seemed to belong to some royal family dressed in coulourful rich attires.
From the chariot appeared young man with a round shield and a Talwar in his hand. He was followed by a wrecked man held by two guards. The man seemed in a medically poor condition. The man with the shield bowed in front of the public and addressed in a proclaiming voice “I am the Chief of Mughal Army and he is Tansen-one of the Navratna of Mughal Samrat Akbar” and indicated in direction of Tansen who seemed really bad illed wounded and scared. He could not speak and folded hands in front of the public. The chief of Mughal Army continued “We are here in the pursuit of maestro singers Tana-Riri. We have heard about them far in the north. We want to meet them.”
Listening to this the villagers were taken aback. There were mixed expressions on their face but majority of them were scared in the name of Mughal Emperor Akbar. Sharmishtha and her husband who were standing at a distance signaled Tana-Riri to stay inside the temple and not to come out until they are asked to do so.
Sharmishtha came forward and humbly asked the Chief “What is it about? I am Sharmishtha-mother of Tana-Riri. Why are you looking for my daughters. What have they done?”
Before the chief could speak ahead Tansen mumbled in his weak voice “I need… their help. I want them to sing Raag Megh Malhar”
He pointed his finger on his body and continued “I had been suffering from the after effects of singing Raag Deepak. I want them to free me from this pain, this burning that has captured my body.” He appalled.
The chief of Mughal army narrated the entire story to the villagers of Vadnagar and to Sharmishtha in specific. He pleaded them to bring Tana-Riri and free Tansen from his pain.
Sharmishtha was taken into shock and pain after listening to this story. She went back to her husband to discuss in private what can be done. Meanwhile Tana-Riri who were hideously listen to this conversation from inside the temple appeared
“Maa… We can sing Raag Megh Malhar for him. It is just a help Maa. We should do it. We are ready” Both Tana and Riri acknowledge to their parents. Parents gave a thoughtful yet concerned look to each other yet nodded in agreement. Daughters moved forward towards Tansen and their Parents followed them.
Tana-Riri bowed down to the strangers whom they had seen for the first time and with great humbleness they both greeted them in union “Namastey”
Tansen responded “Namastey!”
Tana continued “We know the effects of Raag Deepak and that have felt the same in our past, however both of us never sing that Raag together. Either I sing it and Riri soothes me with Raag Megh Malhar or vice-versa”
Tansen was astounded “But dear little goddesses of music. I had no other option and that is why now I have come to you. Please free me from this pain? Please for the heavens, for the connection of our music, sooth me out from this burns”
Tana – Riri nodded in union and sat down on the floor of the ground. They laid the Tanpura in the front and started the Raag- Megh Malhar. Tansen sat in front of them and everyone gazed the three music maestros with eagerness, awe and curiosity. It was a bright dusk yet the cloud started to gather up in the sky. The winds became cold and misty. The waters of the Taalab near the temple started gushing fast.
The two young girls spread their sweet musical melody up in the sky and in the surrounding. The clouds began to roar and that was backed by the lightening. A shimmer of water droplets began to fall. It was as appeasing and fresh like the droplets of pearl. The atmosphere appeared to be pious. The fragrance of the mist was soul refreshing. The first droplet fell on Tansen’s hand and it healed one of his deep burn there.
He was surprised and happy as if he has touched heavens. Soon the droplets converted to the rains. The everyone there started searching for a roof to avoid themselves from getting wet. Unlike others, the three maestros of music, Tana, Riri and Tansen were seated still where they were. Tansen was fully drenched in water and one by one his burns started to heal. His expressions were changing and it seems he was in a trans. He could not believe his body turning cool and to normal. He felt perfectly fine and the sense of wellness was clearly appearing from his gestures. The Chief of Mughal Army appeared more than happy that time.
Seeing Tansen relieved from all fury and pains, Tana-Riri folded their hands in front of them and ended their musical note. Tansen bowed in front of the girls and greeted them “You both are jewels. You are precious and divine. You really are blessed. I am myself a singer yet I will not refrain to praise you in any which aspect I have heard. It is just not the experience and the practice that you have with you, it is much more than that. I will surely tell my Lord Akbar about you and he will be very glad to know this. Shukriya! Dhanyavadam! Tana-Riri, you and your music… may it be remembered till eternity! Thank you so much.”
Tansen had tears in his eyes while praising the girls and the villagers of Vadnagar were awestruck to see the amalgamation of the then glorious singer of Mughal emperor and their very own twin Maestros Tana-Riri.
Soon after spending a night in Vadnagar the Mughal convoy along with Tansen retreated to the Mughal Court.
There in Vadnagar, the musical tradition of Tana-Riri continued. After few days, yet after another morning aarti, Sharmishtha was doing her household chores and her husband was sitting in the garden when someone knocked their door.
Sharmishtha approached towards the door and was surprised. It was the Chief of Mughal Army. “Madam, may come inside? I would like to discuss something with you and your husband”
“Sure” She showed him the way inside their house. Her husband greeted him and asked him to be seated on their small aasana on the floor. Sharmishtha was uncomfortable as she had never expected the person of such high dignity to be arriving at their door steps.
Sharmishtha offered him some edibles and he indicated them his intent of visting Vadnagar again “I want to talk to Tana-Riri. I have a message for them from our Mughal Emperor Shehanshah Akbar”
Before Sharmishtha’s husband would make any decision, Tana-Riri appeared from inside. They both bowed down to the Mughal Chief in union and sat besides their father on the floor. The Mughal Army Chief continued “I have come here with a message of welcome from our Lord Akbar for Tana-Riri. He was too pleased to listen how you both healed his precious jewel Tansen. He is overwhelmed to welcome you and perform in his court. He has sent me to take you both to the Royal Court of our Lord Akbar and oerform there in Deewan – E- Khaas. Let me tell you, you little twin maestros you are very fortunate to have received this invitation directly from our Lord Akbar and very few till date have pleased him the way you have done by healing his favourite Tansen. “
Sharmishtha was listening to the conversation standing in the doorways. Tana-Riri shrugged in negation. Before they could utter anything in return the Chief interrupted “It is an invitation, I hope you understand. I am asked to take you both by the end Prahar of the day”
Tana-Riri stood up in silence and asked the Chief to wait “We will be back soon Maa….Pitaji… I request you all to wait. We will visit the temple before any decision” said Tana and clasped the hand of Riri and disappeared from the gateways
Riri shouted while running “Tana where are we going? What are we supposed to do? What about our vow?”
Both of them bowed in front of the idol of their deity and ran towards the banks of the taalab-the village pond and sat there.
“Riri, we cannot do this, I hope you know that” Tana said with a tensed voice
“Tana , I know. We are not made for this” Riri had tears in her eyes.
Both the sisters hugged each other “Should we deny? What will they do with our village? Our parents?” Tana continued “What do we do Riri? The chief has summons from Lord Akbar. He is powerful and the king. It will also not be right to reject the invitation from the king himself”
Riri added “And by our rejection, it will be never be easy to sustain for our community and our village at such peace that we are today. We have already heard about the Mughal and the way they march ahead in expansion of their reign”
Tana was shattered in tears “We just helped the maestro Tansen. I never though our music and our vow to the God will put us and our village and family in such a situation.”
“Tana, we should pray. We cannot obey to the invitation of Lord Akbar, nor can we disobey our vow, our religion, our music and our parents. Let’s pray. We shall get our way out from this situation.” Riri closed her eyes and Tana followed her sister.
Both folded their hands and started praying. They stood up and proceeded closer to the banks of the Taalab. With closed eyes they started going down the steps in the pond. The twins were going down and water was rising up the level. They clasped each others hands and disappeared deep into the auspicious waters of the pond which was later known as Sharmishtha Taalab. They drowned not themselves, but the confusion and the dilemma they had. They ended their lives making their music immortal. They then lived ever after in the form of their music not only in Vadnagar but beyond the miles way ahead in the reigns and origins of India till today and ever after.
Akbar and his Court after Tana-Riri
The Chief was standing in the court. His head down and hands folded in front of the King.
“I did not expect this news on your return from Vadnagar” said Akbar
“Sir, things were not in our hand. I have already explained you’re their tradition, their rituals and the vow of the twin” said the Chief of the Mughal army apologetically.
“Yes I very well understood that. But… it was never a compulsion that I have laid. It was an invitation which the twins were free to reject. I am really upset by what has happened. Somwhere I really feel that I am responsible for their death. Though in the name of Allah, may their souls rest in peace, but I believe that their parents will always blame me for this loss. I really want to meet their parents. Please immediately arrange for my visit to Vadnagar.” Said Akbar
Few days later, Akbar was sitting on the floor in the main room in Sharmishtha’s house. It was the same place where the Chief of Mughal army had proposed the invitation to Mughal court to Tana-Riri. Akbar had tears in his eyes when he spoke to the parents of the maestro twins “I have no words to say and I erally consider myself responsible for your loss. It is not only your loss, it is the loss of this whole world of art and music. They were the ones to give life to Tansen-my jewel and I can never imagine this to happen to them. Though I have no right to say but I really ask for my apology” Akbar had folded handed and head down in front of Sharmishtha and her husband.
The parents shrugged in acknowledgement.
“I really am touched by the victory of art and music. I have always learnt to win battles, expand the reign and victory has always been my passion. But today this legend maestro twin sisters Tana-Riri have made me learn a lesson, that no matter how worthy you are, how strong you are, you can never win the form of art by your skills to conquer. Today, this innocent form of art has won in front of me and the name of Tana-Riri will be known for their pure music for the rest of the years till eternity.”
This story is my first attempt to provide a showcase to the folk stories and for its debut, I have chosen this story which has been very famous in the state of Gujarat from where I belong. This story is a work of imagination and fiction and the instances and the occasions narrated are imaginary. Though the baseline of this story belongs to a true story however the dialogues and the narration is imaginary to give a dramatic effect. This story has no relevance or any offence against any caste, creed, religion or region.
The story of Tana-Riri is a real story and holds its significance in world heritage. They belonged to the town of Vadnagar which is also the home town of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Today, as a tribute, two temples have been created in the town of Vadnagar which are then known as Tana-Riri Deri.
Written By -Darshi Vasavada