“While I sing at your command, my old teacher sings only when his heart commands him!” -Tan Sen
There is a story told in traditional musical families in the sub-continent about Tan Sen, a legendary musician from the times of Akbar the great who was one of the nine jewels of the Mughal court. It is said he could cause rain clouds to appear and disappear through the exposition of his raags.
The heart does not sing for gold:
The story goes that one day, after listening to the rapturous music of Tan Sen, Akbar asked him if there was anyone in the empire who could match his musical talents.
“There is one, my Lord, who not only matches but indeed surpasses me in music,” answered Tan Sen.
“Is it possible?” burst out Akbar, “then let him appear before me this instant to prove himself!”
“Nay Lord,” said Tan Sen, “For I speak of my venerable teacher, Haridas Swami, who has now retired from worldly life and lives a humble existence in his hut by the forest. And since he is a darvesh, he answers to no king, but only to the highest of authority. And those who wish to hear him, must go to him!”
Akbar had a soft spot in his heart for Darveshis, and he decided that it would be best for all if he was to disguise himself as an ordinary villager and visit Tan Sen’s master discreetly.
When Emperor Akbar arrived in front of the hut, Tan Sen knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” came a voice.
“It is I, Tan Sen, and with me is a friend who wishes to hear you sing!”
“Go away!” shouted the owner of the hut, “I am in no mood for singing or receiving visitors!”
Tan Sen came up with a strategy. He started singing a certain raag he had learned from his teacher, and at one point made a deliberate mistake.
No sooner had he done this when sure enough, the master started singing the same raag from inside his hut, correctly, and once he had started, he continued to sing.
Both Akbar and Tan Sen stood enamored outside the hut as the magic of the sublime music began to take effect. The stars shined brightly in the sky by the time the recital had finished and they were able to leave.
Once they were back at the imperial palace, Akbar asked Tan Sen, “Why is it, my friend, that, though you are renowned throughout the empire, and all bow to your musicial talent, yet I have never in my life heard something so moving even from you?”
“The reason for that, my king,” said Tan Sen “is that while I sing at your command, my old teacher sings only when his heart commands him!”
The Sufi Tradition and commercialism:
This story illustrates beautifully the relationship between society and the truth. There has always been a place in the sub-continent for the sages who have spoken the truth uncompromisingly. This is the root of the music, which we call ‘Sufi proper’.
It was about 10 years ago that I accepted that music was a calling. In the beginning there I felt an impatience. Now that I had taken it on as a mission I wanted to know how to proceed next with my music. The only thing that I had to hold on to was the edict – that if one follows one’s own heart, then with time all one’s needs (spiritual, emotional, physical, material etc) will be taken care of.
But the heart is a wayward thing. Sometimes it follows one inclination and sometimes another. During this journey I realized that what one justified as the desire of one’s heart often lacks permanence and dissipates as soon as it is fulfilled. Yet there are moments when one knows that a step in the right direction has been taken, that a distance has been covered. And nothing can take away the joy of that moment. (part one)