The Legend of Tana Riri

By (Retold by) Margie Sastry

Legend connects the famous classical singer and musician Tansen to Gujarat through this folktale of Tana Riri, which is now celebrated with an annual festival of music in Vadnagar every fall.

The Mughal Emperor Akbar was a great connoisseur of the arts and his court included the famed nine gems or navratna, considered the best talents in all of his empire. Tansen, one of the nine, was a child prodigy trained in the classical tradition. His music was said to have an effect on human beings, living creatures and the elements of nature alike. Akbar was very proud and fond of Tansen, giving rise to a lot of jealousy and inciting some people in the court to plot for his fall from royal favor.

Tansen had composed many new melodies and songs which he played at the court.

“He has sung so many songs, your majesty, but have you heard him sing the Raga Deepak?” said a wily old courtier intent on ruining Tansen. “No I don’t believe I have,” said Akbar. “I shall ask him to sing it this evening.”

When Akbar put his request to Tansen, the great musician was surprised and reluctant. “Shall I sing you a new melody I have composed instead,” he pleaded. But Akbar would have none of it. “No. Deepak Raga it must be. I have heard your rendition of it is matchless.”

“If only you knew,” muttered Tansen under his breath, as he resigned to his fate. The court was set. It was twilight and the sonorous notes of the Raga Deepak filled the air. However, as Tansen sang, the mellow cool evening suddenly turned tepid. Those who sat near Tansen witnessed him perspiring profusely and saw his face turn completely red. Yet, on and on he sang. The air grew warm and then decidedly hot. As he reached the crescendo, all the lamps in the court lit up spontaneously, due to the vibrations set out by his singing. It dawned on the assembly why the Raga was called Deepak. When sang to perfection, it had the power to light up the deepaks or lamps.

“Amazing! Wonderful! Breathtaking! Superb!” applauded the audience. Poor Tansen, however, was in no condition to hear their words. Dripping with perspiration, he collapsed in a heap, almost senseless; his body as hot as if it was on fire. Quickly, he was taken back home and everyone made efforts to cool and revive him. But it was futile. Even after days and weeks of treatment and all possible cures, Tansen remained weak, exhausted and feverish.

In search of a cure for his affliction, he set out with a small retinue to tour the country. He went to many places, over hill, dale, to humble hamlets and thriving towns, but to no avail. At last he reached the town of Vadnagar in Gujarat. The monsoons had set bringing refreshing rains and quenching the countryside parched by the searing summer. Tansen was still not cooled by the showers. Almost delirious by his fever, he reached a small temple in the heart of town and was drawn by sweet sound of singing. In front of the sanctum sanctorum sat two lovely sisters, Tana and Riri, offering their music as a gift to the gods. Trained in the classic tradition, the Raga they chose was Megh Malhar, created to welcome the advent of the rains.

They sang, drowning the assembly in their melody. Tansen felt a strange shiver pass through his thin frame as the music reached his very core.

“This is the cure,” he thought to himself. A perfect rendition of the Megh Malhar is the only cure to cool the heat generated by my singing of the Deepak Raga.”

For the first time in many months he felt hale and hearty, like himself again. Tana and Riri sang on devotedly. Refreshed and rejuvenated, Tansen created a Raga called Miyan ki Malhar that lives on to this day.

Posted on: Jul 16, 2011


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