March 31, 2008

Tansen, Musician Extraordinaire

Madhya Pradesh-5:

Tansen, recognized by many to be the father of Hindustani classical music needs no introduction.

Tansen was born in Gwalior. I went to the Tomb of Tansen to discover there that nearby, there is another tomb of Mohammed Ghaus.

I did not know who was Ghaus was until I made this trip to Gwalior. Now I know more after having returned and read about him online. Someone rightly said, at times, knowledge gained by travelling 100 kms can be more than knowledge gained by reading 100 books.

Ghaus was a saint of Afghan origin and was the guru (spiritual master) of Akbar and Tansen. The art of his tomb is presumed to be an example of Mughal architecture in its infancy.

Square in construction, there are four burj (towers) on four sides and the structure is surrounded by beautiful jaali (lattice) with a big dome on top that was supposedly decorated once with shining blue stones.

The Tomb of Tansen, built in the 16th century, is comparatively simple. It is on a rectangular elevated platform with a pillared gallery in the center. There is a legend about a tamarind tree near his tomb that still stands though it has dried up now. Credulous singers used to chew the leaves of the tree to be blessed with sweet voice.

Akbar, being a great patron of arts and music, encouraged it so much that what is now known as Hindustani classical music flourished under his patronage. Tansen, of course, was leading a grand array of accomplished musicians. Would you like to have another look at the picture of Anup Talao (also called the Peerless pool) in my post here (4th picture) where Tansen was known to be seated on the beautiful platform of square red sand stone enclosed by railing with lovely jaali work. Abul Fazl in Akbarnama recorded that this pool used to be filled with gold, copper and silver coins that shimmered in the sunlight. Jehangir has mentioned in his memoirs that he arranged distribution of coins in charity worth one crore three lakh rupees that were emptied out of that pool.

In Indian culture, Tansen continues to remain an enigmatic legend as the most melodious singer and instrumentalist. Almost all gharanas of Hindustani classical music claim some connection with the Tansen lineage.

The garden in which the tomb is located is the locale for the annual music festival called Tansen Samaroh that is held during December each year where notable musicians from across the world and India gather to perform during the festival. That festival got over a day before I reached Gwalior!

In Gwalior court, queen Mrignayani, whose romance with the Tomar King Man Singh had been forged on her singing, as I had written here, was a friend of Tansen. According to folklore, Baiju Bawra is another great musician of that era who had challenged Tansen and they had a musical duel in the court of Akbar.

While on the topic of music, it would be appropriate to mention here the name of one of my favourite music artist, the Sarod Maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, who was born in Gwalior. (Incidentally, ex-Prime Minister Vajpayee was also born in Gwalior.) Ustad Amjad is recognized throughout India as one of the best classical musicians. He is the torch-bearer of the Gwalior Gharana and is said to be representing the sixth generation of his family to inherit the tradition of classical music. That goes back to the era of the court musicians of the Mughal Empire and the original Senia-Beenkar Gharana musical school devoted to the tradition of the legendary Tansen. What I also admire about him is his visit to Pakistan in 1981. By doing so, he became the first Indian musician to break the "culture silence" between the two countries.

I'll end this post on the Musician Extraordinaire by quoting Pandit Birendra Kishore in his interesting and informative book, Indian Music and Miah Tansen:

"During the epoch of the most glorious period of the Moghul Empire the musical culture of North India rose to the Zenith. Mian Tansen, the greatest disciple of the saint and musical seer, Swami Haridas of Vrindaban, was the central figure around whom a renaissance of Hindusthani music took place. The new features added during this period could never be brushed aside, for in the teaching of Tansen could be found the key that incorporated and federated the musical arts of India and the Middle East through a rhythmic pattern that was however India's own creation. In the past, the spirit of this synthesis had incorporated Greek and Arabian melody types into the Indian scheme. The creation of such a scheme was a triumph for the musical genius of India."

March 28, 2008

Hello Spring

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens

The sun shines warm and bright, the sky is blue and clear, the sparrows twitter as they fly around, the pigeons around my window sill coo as they walk past, the sounds of singing birds and rustling leaves is delightful to my senses.

Days are pleasantly warm and nice and evening breeze is cool. April is almost here, and it would be good to spend more time outdoors before it gets unbearable, as the summer is almost round the corner and seems to be in a hurry to arrive.

Before I give more attention to the latter part of my above statement, I’ll try and concentrate on the present, and enjoy it. I love these visits to the beaches, to the parks, to watch the butterflies flittering from flower to flower, the sun rays through trees, the sights of flowers blooming, bees humming, birds singing, and the migratory birds still lingering around the sea shores. I get much happiness in exploring the desert showing signs of green life with patches of colors of pink, yellow and white blooms.

Fugue should see a resuming of my writings on travels to Madhya Pradesh that is somehow going at a snail’s pace, and I shall try to post more often in future.

My last month's visit to the Kumaon region of Uttarkhand of India was the 20th state and union territories that I covered. This summer, I intend to explore the rest of the State around the Garhwal parts of the Himalayan region.

On the other hand, besides India and Kuwait - two countries where I have spent a major part of my life - with this visit to Jordan (a second proper visit as the previous one was during the evacuation time just prior to the Gulf War I when I passed through it hurriedly), I have now visited 16 other countries. No, I will not bore you with the list but because of requests from a few friends, I wish to write about them (if and when time permits) on a separate blog or at least post some pictures of those places though some of them before I had a digicam will need to be scanned and then posted.

To get back again to one of my favourite topics, i.e., nature, we live in a world of wonders, and it is manifested as we watch nature unfold before us during each season, isn’t it? It’s such a privilege to be alive and to be a witness to those changing seasons!

Thank you for visiting Fugue and leaving words of encouragement. Indicaspecies appreciates your comments. Let’s spring in the air in celebration at the onset of this spring.

March 23, 2008

Greetings from Jordan

A quick few words to convey I got an opportunity to travel again and I am sending my greetings from the land of Jerash, Ajloun, the Aqaba, the Dead Sea, and one of the new seven wonders of the world, the Petra of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

From Amman, I wish you a good day and best wishes for a Happy Easter, Happy Holi and happiness in all that you celebrate.

I'll be back in blogosphere next week and shall be in touch with you all then.

- celine

March 19, 2008

The Citadel, Gwalior

Madhya Pradesh-4:

In addition to Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhod and Man Mandir Palace, the other structures at the Gwalior Fort are:

  • Gujari Mahal (Gujari Palace)
  • Saas-Bahu Ka Mandir
  • Teli Ka Mandir
  • Vikramaditya Mahal (Vikram Palace)
  • Karan Mahal (Karan Palace)
  • Shahjahan Mahal (Shah Jahan Palace)
  • Jauhar Kund
  • Scindia School

Near Man Mandir Palace

I went about exploring the the Gujari Mahal, the Vikram Mahal, Karan Mahal and the Shah Jahan Mahal.

Karan Mahal - rear view

The story goes that after Raja Mansingh Tomar wooed and won her, Mrignayani expected of him to build for her a separate palace with a constant water supply from the River Rai. So, the 15th century Gujari Mahal was built in her honor. The exterior of the Palace is well maintained and the interior has been converted into an archeological museum, housing a large collecting of Hindu and Jain sculptures, some said to be dating back to the 1st and 2nd century. Photography is not allowed here.

Partial view of Karan Mahal and Shah Jahan Mahal

I meant to return to the rest of the structures after lunch and that meant descending down the Fort complex to the city below. Once there, however, I got so busy exploring other interesting spots that there was no chance to get back to the Fort till the evening. By the time I returned, it was almost dark and I had a quick look at the Saas Bahu Ka Mandir, a traditional temple of two sizes of temples; and Teli Ka Mandir, built with a unique blend of Dravidian style of architecture (roof part) as well as the Indo-Aryan characteristics of northern India (the walls).

Then I proceeded for the Sound and Light Show and as I wrote in my previous post, it was delightful. Two shows take place every evening, in Hindi and English. At the Son-et-Lumiere Show, Amitabh Bachchan eloquently narrates the story of the Gwalior Fort with his deep baritone voice. It was very interesting to experience history at the Show that included:

- the story of Suraj Sen, the Rajput chieftain and Gwalipa, whose story is narrated here;

- the romantic story of Raja Man Singh and Mrignayani;

- the Turkish invasion and the tragic defeat of the Rajputs;

- sieges by Mehmood Ghazni and other Muslim kings;

- the sad sounds of Jauhar (different practice from Sati) of the Rajput women, a practice of collective suicide of a community facing certain defeat in war;

- the sound of the Rajput menfolk who ride out to their last battles till death in what is called Saka;

- the subsequent battles of victory and sounds of reconquering of a lost treasure by the resilient Rajputs;

- the glorious era that followed.

At the Show, Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj and Kumar Gandharva's efforts can be enjoyed that substantiates the grandeur of traditional music as sung by the erstwhile Baiju Bawra and Tansen (more on Tansen in my subsequent posts). Superb colours kept illuminating every nook and cranny of the beautiful Man Mandir Palace and other structures around. The sound of the whole Show creates a realistic effect so well that at the end of it, I felt steeped in the history of the place.

With this post, I bid goodbye to this spot in Central India where history, religion, music, and architecture have been beautifully forged to form a glorious Fort, the Gwalior Fort.

Man Mandir Palace

March 15, 2008

Gwalior Fort, the Pearl amongst Fortresses

A Fort which has tales to tell of life and death, bravery and cowardice, strife and harmony, arrogance and humility, conquests and surrender, loyalty and treachery, war and peace – that’s what I felt as soon as I set my eyes on the Man Mandir of the Gwalior Fort.

The main reason for my stopover at Gwalior was to check out the Gwalior Fort and Man Mandir Palace in particular. Approximately 110 kms away from Agra, the Fort seems to be situated right at the very edge of the steep cliff of Lashkar, at a height of 300 feet above the sprawling city below. It occupies the whole of the top surface of a rocky massif. It is 3 kms long from the North to the South, and 600 to 3,000 feet broad from east to west. There are two routes to climb this Fort. I ascended from the eastern side which I believe is called the Gwalior Gate (also known as Alamgir Darwaza). Alamgir Darwaza was constructed in 1660 by the then Governor of the Fort, Motimid Khan during the regime of Aurangzeb.

The foundations of the Fort were laid some 1000 years ago, although there are other structures and temples within its walls that are traced back to 425 AD.

One of the most attractive monuments of the Gwalior Fort is the Man Mandir Palace, named after the great Tomar King, Raja Man Singh and is supposedly built in the 15th century, between 1486 and 1517. In the five hundred years since then, the Gwalior Fort has been the scene of some of the significant events in the history of the region. The fort has changed hands many times, first held by the Tomars and subsequently by the Mughals, the Marathas and the British, who finally handed it over to the Scindias.

The Man Mandir has four levels, two of them underground. There are chambers for affairs of state as well as those for relaxation, decorated ornately with beautiful paintings, glazed tiles of varied colours, different figures of human beings, carved animals and flowers. One can see vast chambers with fine stone screens and lattice works (jaalis) which served as halls for music and dance. The walls of these halls were decorated with triangular friezes. It is believed that each time a candle was lit, those mirrors would reflect light that would give an impression of hundreds of candles burning giving a festive ambience to the place. The walls, now stripped of their former glory, are a mute testimony to the passing of the centuries.

There are Jhulagar, Kesar Kunda, and Phansi Ghar below this storey. In the dungeons below prisoners were kept. Aurangzeb had his brother Murad imprisoned here and later executed.

This imposing structure is so magnificent that it inspired the Mughal Emperor Babar to describe it as “the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind.” I’ve used Babur’s words as the title for my post here.

I must emphasize that among the buildings within the Fort, the major attraction for me has been the Man Mandir Palace probably because I had always been fascinated about the story of Raja Man Singh and his queen, the courageous Gujari village girl, Mriganayani, whose romance with the King had been forged on her singing. More on this when I shall write on other structures of the Gwalior Fort and about Tansen in future posts.

Upon reaching there, I had one look at the beautiful palace, Man Mandir, decorated with splendid blue frieze tiles and felt transported to an era of intrigue, chivalry and valour. I found the Palace is a fine edifice of Hindu architecture with a Mughal touch to it. Seeing the fine use of colour, motif and design in it gave me an immense sense of joy. My visit to Man Mandir Palace made yet another one of my travel dreams come true.

More pictures of the Man Mandir Palace can be found here.

March 12, 2008

Back to Pavilion

I wish to thank all of you who have been here and wished me well, in thoughts and in words. Thank you for your kind concern and care.

I'm back from the cosmopolitan national capital city of India and visits to some of its fine educational institutions.

Work accomplished, I took the opportunity to explore the city further. This time, in addition to another visit to the Raisina Hill and a leisure walk on the Rajpath (a must during each visit to the capital), I also had a pleasant experience travelling in its impressive Metro.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed revisting a few more grand monuments of the Mughal era and particularly explored the Red Fort, the Humayun's Tomb and the Jama Masjid.

Red Fort

Humayun's Tomb Complex

Juma Masjid

I made time to get away from the urban milieu as always, and managed to visit a hill station of the Kumaon foothills of the outer Himalayas, with its highest mountain at a height of 8,579 feet and it was a delightful time around the various lakes of that area.


The highlight of the trip to this nature lover was a safari to the oldest National Park of India that covers almost 1,300 sq km protecting some of the endangered species of flora and fauna and I particularly enjoyed the avi-fauna there.

Corbett National Park

Spring time at Bhimtal

More details on this trip will follow in my posts after I am done with the series I've begun on my December 2007 trip to Madhya Pradesh.