'The world shall live in me, not I in it.'
- Akhlaq-i Jalali.
GLORY be to God that this universal belief saved me from
falling into the crooked paths of bigotry and prejudice,
on which so many children of God pass the night of life
like a flock of ignorant sheep. They walk in herds unto
the very gates of death, unaware of their Why and Whither,
while even the voice of immortality cannot recall them,
and they are lost unto the ages!
When Maulabakhsh, my grandfather, died I was in deep
despair. I grieved for a very long time over the loss of
my musical guide and inspiration, realizing the uncertainty
of this life, and that my own existence was only worth enduring
if I could be of some use to the world. I appreciated the
great service Maulabakhsh had rendered to India by giving
its music a feasible system of notation, and wondered how
I could carry on his work.
At one period music in India was regarded not only as
a medium for perfecting humanity, but also as a spiritual
manifestation. My grandfather, with his intense feeling
for both his art and his people, believed that music could
only be raised from its present degeneration by using it
as a teacher of morals and a prophet of the Lord's glory.
Once, in my utter despair at my futility in comparison
with him, I broke down completely, crying, 'Allah! If our
people had lost only their wealth and power it would not
have been so grievous to bear, since these temporal things
are always changing hands in the mazes of Maya. But the
inheritance of our race, the music of the Divine, is also
leaving us through our own negligence, and that is a loss
my heart cannot sustain!'
I invoked the name of Sharda, the goddess of music, and
prayed her to protect her sacred art.
And thus it came about that I left my home with the view
of creating a universal system of music. I started out on
this mission when I was eighteen years old, and was welcomed
at the courts of Rajas and Maharajas who greatly encouraged
and rewarded me for my efforts. From all the leading cities
of India I received addresses and medals in recognition
and appreciation of my music, and thus increased the number
of my friends, pupils, and sympathizers throughout India.
'He who though dressed in fine apparel exercises
tranquility, is quiet, subdued, restrained, chaste,
and has ceased to find fault with others, he indeed
is a Brahman, an ascetic, a friar.'
The Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahbub 'Ali Khan, a great
mystic ruler of India and a devotee of music and poetry
showed me special favor. Several times my playing moved
the Nizam to tears; and when I was done he asked curiously,
what mystery lay in my music?
Then, answering him, I explained, 'Your Highness, as
sound is the highest source of manifestation, it is mysterious
within itself, and whosoever has the knowledge of sound,
he indeed knows the secret of the universe. My music is
my thought, and my thought is my emotion; the deeper I dive
into the ocean of feeling, the more beautiful are the pearls
I bring forth in the form of melodies. Thus my music creates
feeling within me even before others feel it. My music is
my religion; therefore worldly success can never be a proper
price for it, and my sole object in music is to achieve
This explanation, together with my playing, charmed the
Nizam so much that he presented me with a purse full of
golden coins, and placing his own precious emerald ring
upon my finger named me 'Tansen', after the great Indian
singer of the past. This incident brought me gifts and titles
from all parts of India. But honors for myself did not really
satisfy me. How could I be content with my own exalted position
when my fellow musicians were looked upon with contempt
by conservative India?
Naturally I realized that it was due partly to the musicians
themselves, who are as a rule illiterate and who look to
the princes and potentates for support, feeding their false
pride with flattery and subservience, and thus losing the
independence and inspiration of their art. Then again, the
masses are untrained in the subject, while the educated
classes are far too busy adopting Western ideas and sacrificing
literature, philosophy, and music to polo, cricket, and
tennis. I met many of the latter, who made it a boast that
they knew nothing about the music of their own country,
furnishing their homes with blaring gramophones and hiding
their sitars away in disgrace.
'O Thou whose kingdom passes not away, pity him whose
kingdom is passing away!'
- dying words of Caliph Vathek
To my amazement and horror, all the medals and decorations
which I had gathered as emblems of my professional success,
and which are a source of pride to me, gained as they were
by so much endeavor, enthusiasm, and the labor of many years
spent in constant wandering from place to place, were in
a single instant snatched away from me forever. In a moment
of abstraction they were left in a car, which could not
be traced despite all my efforts. But in place of the disappointment,
which at first oppressed me, a revelation from God touched
the hidden chords of my mind and opened my eyes to the truth.
I said to myself, 'It matters not how much time you have
spent to gain that which never belonged to you but which
you called your own; today you understand it is yours no
longer. And it is the same with all you possess in life,
your property, friends, relations; even your own body and
mind. All that you call 'my', not being your true property,
will leave you, and only that which you name 'I', which
is absolutely disconnected with all that is called 'my',
will remain. Why not go forth and strive for that which
is worth gaining in life? Why not thus attain to true glory,
instead of wasting your valuable opportunities in vain greed
for wealth, fame, reputation, and those worldly honors which
are here today and forgotten tomorrow?'
I knelt down and thanked God for the loss of my medals,
crying, 'Let all be lost from my imperfect vision but Thy
true Self, Ya Allah!'
I then set forth in pursuit of philosophy, visiting every
mystic I could on my journeys to different Indian cities.
I traveled through jungles, across mountains, and along
riverbanks in search of mystics and hermits, playing and
singing before them until they also sought my society.
It was in Nepal, during the pilgrimage of Pashpathinath,
that I met a Muni among several sages. He was a Mahatma
of the Himalayas and lived in a mountain cave, and untouched
by the earthly contact, ambitions, and environments, he
seemed to be the happiest man in the world. After I had
entertained him with my music he, without seeming to notice,
revealed to me the mysticism of sound, and unveiled before
my sight the inner mystery of music. I thereafter met other
mystics, with whom I discoursed on different subjects, and
whose blessings I obtained through my art.