Tansen was a Hindustani classical music composer, musician and vocalist. He was proficient in playing many musical instruments, and is credited with improving and popularizing the plucked rabab, which is a bowed or plucked stringed instrument of Arab origin.
It is believed that Tansen was born in 1493, in the tiny village of Behat, to a Brahmin named Makarand Pande. He was named Ramtanu at birth. He started his early training at a school founded by Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior. He was trained under the tutelage of two talented singers in his youth: Saint Haridas and the Pir of Gwalior, Mohammed Ghaus.
Besides them, the king of Bihar, Sultan Mohammad Adil, and Govind Swami also played an important role in his growth. Before coming to Akba’s court, Tansen was the chief court musician in the court of King Ramachandra of Rewa in central India. The fame he acquired there attracted the attention of Akbar, who had a reputation of selectively collecting and employing the best musicians of his age. At Akbar’s request, Tansen shifted to his court in Delhi. Tansen was selected to be one of the Navaratnas (Nine Jewels) of Emperor Akbar’s court. It was in 1562 that Tansen entered Emperor Akbar’s court and stayed there until his death. One of the main sources of information about music in Akbar’s court comes from Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari. Akbar was famous for identifying talent from different places and diving them into seven orders, one for each day of the week. There were nineteen vocalists who performed under the guidance of Tansen accompanied by the instrumentalists. Sarmandal, bin, nay, karna and tanpura were the leading instruments of that time.
Legend has it, that once he was asked to perform Deepak Raga by Akbar, a raga that could actually produce heat when sung properly. Tansen sang it with such perfection that his whole body started burning up. It was only when his daughter sang Megh Malhar, a raga that causes rain, that his body became cool.
Actually to sources, Tansen was responsible for the treatise titled Ragamala, the Shri Ganesha Stotra and the Sangeet Saar. He is also credited with reducing the number of ragas and raginis to 400 from an astronomical figure of 4000 in his time. With his expertise, he also reduced the number of talas from 92 to a mere 12. The ragas ‘Miyan Malhar’ and ‘Miyan ki todi’ are said to be his creation. His gharana of music is remembered stalwarts and digressed into two directions. The elder son Bilas Khan took the responsibility of heading the rabab players and the second son Suratsen took up the sitar players.
The date of his death remains uncertain. It is said that he wished to be buried in Gwalior on the event of his death; this was rightfully done and his tomb is now a tourist attraction.
1) Tansen Samman is the highest award in the field of classical music instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Government.
2) Tansen Samaroh is the largest and the oldest Samaroh in the field of classical music. Samaroh means a congregation or gathering of people.