The musician Tansen, one of the navratans or nine jewels in Mughal emperor Akbar’s court, was so talented and popular that there are several legends and fables about his music. When he sang the raga malhar , it is said that clouds would get heavy with rain. When he sang the deepak raga , earthen lamps would begin to glow with light.
Akbar one day expressed a desire to meet Tansen’s guru and hear him sing. Tansen said to Akbar: “My guru, Swami Haridas, will not come to your court. He is not employed by you like I am. He lives in a hut in the jungle. He sings only when he feels like; so no one can command him to sing.” “If he will not come, we will go to meet him” said Akbar.
Akbar disguised as a peasant to go and meet swami haridas.
When Akbar and Tansen reached Swami Haridas’s home, they found him sitting outside, silent, with his musical instruments beside him. Tansen requested Akbar to wait while he himself started singing. After a while, he deliberately made a mistake, at which Swami Haridas said benignly, “Don’t sing like this, Tansen.” Then Swami Haridas began to sing, casting a magic spell all around. Akbar was in a trance, transported to a state of spiritual bliss, broken only by the cessation of the melody. The emperor left for his palace but the song haunted him throughout the journey.
Akbar asked Tansen: “Why don’t you sing as well as Haridas does?” Tansen folded his hands and said, “Your Lordship! Between Guru Haridas and me there is a vast difference. I sing for my king while he sings for the Lord of the universe. He is a musician of a much higher court.” On hearing this profound truth, Akbar fell silent.