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TANSEN (1506–1589), Indian musician Tansen, also known Miyan Tansen, was a legendary Indian musician. His father, Markand Pandey, was a poet who lived in a village near Gwalior. Tansen displayed an intense interest in music from an early age, and he was sent to Vrindavan, near Mathura, to study under a famous musician saint, Swami Haridas. After completting his training, Tansen was appointed court musician at Gwalior; he later went to Rewa (in Central India) as court musician of Raja Ramsingh, a musician himself. When Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) heard of Tansen, he invited him to his court and honored him as one of the Navaratna, or "Nine Gems" of the Mughal empire. Abul Fazl, the chronicler of Akbar's reign, wrote of Tansen, "A singer like him has not been in India for the last thousand years." Tansen enjoyed considerable influence in the imperial court and was an exponent of gaurhar bani, one of the four known styles of dhruva-pada music, prevalent in North India during that era.

Tansen is credited with reshaping dhruva-pada music by introducing such Persian nuances as meend and gamaka. Tansen created new rāgas, some of which are still regarded as the foremost rāgas in North Indian music, such as "Darbari Kanada," "Darbari Todi," "Miyan ki Malhar," and "Miyan ki Sarang." Tansen was also known to be a musical codifier, studying the structure of rāgas, listing about four hundred. His Sangeeta Sara and Rāgāmalā are important documents on music. He is, moreover, credited with introducing certain developments in the rabab and rudra-veena. The Dhrupad singers of the seniya gharana attribute their lineage to Tansen.

There are many legends about the miraculous powers of Tansen's music. The most famous legend recounts how Tansen sang "Rāga Dipaka" at a royal request, even though that rāga was known to generate "unbearable heat" in its singer's body. His victorious competition with the great Baiju Bawra is another legend often narrated by music lovers. The achievements of Tansen are referred to in detail in the work Virabhanudaya Kavya by Madhava, written in a.d. 1555, in which his music is decribed as "immortal."

Tansen and his wife Hussaini had four sons and a daughter, Sarasvati, a vina player. His sons—Suratsen, Saratsen, Tarang sen, and Bilas Khan—all played rabab. His son-in-law, Misri Khan, was also a vina player. Tansen died at the age of eithty-three, around 1589, and was buried at Gwalior next to the tomb of Mohammad Ghaus. Many musicians make pilgrimages to his tomb to seek his blessings.

Kalpana Desai


Fazl, Abul. Ain i-Akbari, translated by R. Blochmann. Lahore: Qausain, 1975.

Kuppuswamy, Gowri, and M. Hariharan. Royal Patronage ofIndian Music. Delhi: Sundeep, 1984.

Massey, Reginald, and Jamila Massey. The Music of India. New York: Crescendo, 1977.