| A miniature painting showing Akbar, Tansen and Guru Haridas. Picture courtesy National Museum, Delhi
Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh), Dec. 10: His magical singing could make it rain or start a fire. That is what legend claims about Tansen.
History says very little, except that this leading member of Akbar’s navratnas (nine jewels) was born a Hindu in Gwalior, came to the Mughal court, settled down in Fatehpur Sikri, converted to Islam and, after his death, was buried in his birthplace. Music lovers and historians seeking to learn more haven’t had much luck.
That could now change with recent excavations adjacent to the Tansen Baradari ' a Mughal building associated with medieval India’s most illustrious musician ' on the eastern outskirts of Fatehpur Sikri, hopes the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
So far, the ASI has found the remains of three hamams (large baths that used cold and hot water), a hospital, two dome-like structures, some pottery and paintings and ' what it believes is most significant ' the living room and bedroom of a house. A buried staircase connects the site to the Baradari, also known as Tansen Hawamahal.
The discovery was accidental. ASI’s horticulture wing had been digging through a 30-foot-wide mound to build a garden and beautify the Baradari in June last year when it stumbled on evidence of construction buried under the soil. The proper excavation began early this year.
Why do the archaeologists believe the finds may throw light on Tansen’s life'
All available records suggest Tansen lived in Fatehpur Sikri and had converted to Islam here. Local folklore identifies the Baradari ' a Mughal hall with a roof and pillars but no walls ' as the place where he used to perform.
“We have long been hearing from the villagers (of adjacent Sikri) that Akbar had built a house for Tansen near the hall. We have got some evidence now,” said M.M. Sharma, an ASI official.
The ruins, archaeologists believe, bear signs that a 16th-century celebrity lived at the site. The buried house, they say, could have been Tansen’s home.
The ASI now plans to dig up a 300-metre area stretching from the Baradari to Agra Gate.
“We are sure that if we excavate some other mounds in the area, we can extricate buried history that will reveal details of Tansen’s life,” said Manzar Ali, the official in charge of ASI activities in Fatehpur Sikri.
The finds are remarkable in themselves. Each hamam has a system for heating and cooling water, a network of channels to mix hot and cold water and to supply water to the fountains, and a drainage system.
“Hamams and water channels have been found at many Mughal structures but nowhere are they so intricate and elaborate as in Fatehpur Sikri,” said D. Dayalan, director of ASI, Agra range.
The excavators have found china-clay utensils and iron knives, too. “We have sent the stuff for carbon dating and other scientific tests,” Dayalan said. Prima facie, he claimed, the finds seem to be from Tansen’s period.
According to ethnomusicologist Bonnie Wade’s book Imaging Sound, there were 36 musicians in Akbar’s court of whom Tansen was the most prominent. He played a pivotal role in the synthesis of Hindu, Sufi and central and west Asian music that led to the emergence of the north Indian musical tradition.
Born in 1506 in Gwalior, Tansen later brought the dhrupad style of music to the Mughal court. In Gwalior’s Behat, where he is buried, his mausoleum is a tourist attraction.