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Akbar's visit to Swami Shri Haridas

Mian Tansen was one among the navratnas of the court of Akbar. Tansen achieved this position by virtue of being an outstanding musician of Hindustani classic style. He not only could sing and play the rage to such perfection that lamps will lighten up as he sang Deepak rage etc, but he developed many new rages and styles by fusion of traditional and contemporary streams of music. Grand music festivals are held in his honor in various parts of India till today and the name Tansen has become almost a household name in northern India.

In the royal Mogul court, the king profusely greeted Tansen after one of the performances, "Tansen, you sing so well, you handle your instrument so perfectly, your voice is so mesmerizing, I tend to believe you being the greatest musician of all times." Mian Tansen submitted humbly, "Respected Sir, it is a great honor to hear such kind words of encouragement, but the fact remains my music is nothing in comparision to that of my guru, Swami Haridas." Surprised the king said, "Swami Haridas? I have never heard this name. In which royal court does he sing?" Tansen replied, "Right you are Sir, you have not heard his name for the simple reason that he is not a royal singer. He is ascetic of highest order, living in Vrindavan, sitting on Yamuna banks he sings in the praise of universal lord, cosmic couple in the name of Shyama Shyam, or, Priya Priyatam." The curiosity of Akbar increased, "Will a musician, much better than Tansen, give up the royal patronage and resolve to stay in forests, in hermitage deprived of all city amenities? If there exists such a person, he must be truly divine. I must travel to Vrindavan along with Tansen and meet the saint. I must invite him to royal court so that all of us are benefited by his presence."

As he explained his desire to Tansen, the latter contested the idea saying Swamiji does not travel out of Brijmandal, and if the king wanted to hear him, he should rather travel to Vrindavan. Tansen explained further, "If you want to hear him singing a natural way, we should go to him as ordinary citizens avoiding royal paraphernalia. The pomp and show associated with royal entourage is likely to interfere with the natural semblance there." Akbar appreciated the idea and decided to travel alone with Tansen, disguised as his attendant.

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Swamiji was not keeping well for quite a few days. He was running high fever and was on tulsi patra and Yamuna jal to purify his body. Though well built, he had gone quite weak in those days. Still he got up early in the morning as usual, took a holy dip in Yamuna and sat in the samaj (collective singing of devotional songs) with his disciples. Today, he was trembling due to fever and stopped singing. He was only listening to music with closed eyes. Devotees were coming from far and near and paying their respect at the nearby Bihariji Mandir and at the feet of Swami Shri Haridas. Everybody wanted Swamiji to get well soon, so they could hear his melodious voice at least during their next visit.

Tansen came with an attendant carrying his Tanpoora (musical instrument) and bowed at the feet of his guru, attendant too paid respect. Somebody called his attention, "Swamiji, Mian Tansen has come." Swamiji opened his eyes, looked at Tansen and the attendant, smiled and welcomed them. "Tansen, join and lead the samaj" commanded Swamiji. Tansen took hold of his Tanpoora, joined the group and started singing. Somehow he was not comfortable today, samaj lost his coherence. Swamiji was listening with closed eyes. He opened his eyes looked at Tansen, who bowed his head. Again he looked at the attendant, who too bowed his head. Swamiji smiled. Taking off the cloth wrapped around his shoulders, Swamiji called his principal disciples, "Vithal, take this gudari (cloth) and place it on that nearby tree and get my tanpoora. Lord is commanding me to sing." Vithal did exactly as he was told to do. Swamiji pulled up his tanpoora, ran his finger up and down its strings, gently playing with it he started singing. Other disciples joined and the samaj was resumed. Tansen set aside his tanpoora, stopped singing and just looked at his attendant who was totally lost in Swamiji’s music. Swamiji looked much healthier now, his face wearing the usual glow, as if he was not ill at all but the gudari hanging on the tree was trembling as if it was carrying the high fever which Swamiji was suffering from. The samaj continued for quite long, Swamiji was leading it and everyone enjoyed, particularly the attendant who came along with Tansen. He almost lost his consciousness, eyes closed, head shaking slowly, fingers tapping gently at thighs, an expression of fulfillment on his face; it seemed as if he has transcended this world to reach eternal Vrindavan.

As samaj came to an end, Swamiji opened his eyes, set aside his tanpoora, and looked at the gathering. The attendant came back to conscious state took off his headgear and bowed to Swamiji in dandvat (prostrate). Swamiji touched his head, his fingers running through the beautiful locks of the attendant, he said, "Get up, O King of India, your desire is fulfilled." The attendant, who was no one else but Akbar in disguise, got the shock of his life, gathering his wits, he said, "I do realize there is nothing to hide from a man of God like you. As you know everything let me confess, Tansen sang out of tune just to prompt you to sing, so that I could hear you O great saint. Kindly forgive both of us." As the dialogue proceeded, Akbar wanted to know how swamiji who was looking ill and pale when they came, became healthy and cheerful in just over a few minutes. Swamiji drew his attention to the gudari hanging and shaking on the tree and explained that the disease is presently arrested in that gudari and it will return to him as soon as he would wrap it around himself. The king was impressed. He went to the temple to have darshan of Bihariji, went around Yamuna and enjoyed the serene environs of Vrindavan.

Coming back to Swamiji, Akbar offered to construct a huge temple for Shri Biharriji and attach large tracts of revenue yielding land to it to make a prosperous establishment. Swamiji dismissed all his proposals with a gentle smile and saying, "My lord always roams around in forests."

The name Kunj Bihari, as Swami Haridas addressed his beloved Thakurji, means the supreme enjoyer of woods/ forests. As such, Swamiji never wanted to impose state patronage on the universal Lord, would that not mean belittling the Greatest of all?

The king persisted. Though he had realized that the sage was genuinely uninterested in any of his offers, he still wanted to leave a mark of his visit to Vrindavan in some form. When he repeatedly requested Swamiji to grant him opportunity to do something for Vrindavan at least, Swamiji said, "You are so persistent and have such a keen desire, kindly get one of the broken stairs of Yamuna Ghat repaired." He directed his disciples to guide King to the broken stair. Akbar was now really disappointed. The thought the sage may be a great musician but seems to be mad at the same time. He is telling me, the King of Hindustan to get a damaged stair repaired? I am the one who have constructed huge forts and nosques and now they are taking me to show the broken stair which I should get repaired? What a joke? But better sense prevailed on him; he kept his cool and followed the saints. As he reached Yamuna bank and the accompanying saint pointed to broken stair, the scene before him changed in a flash. What he was now seeing was not ordinary stone-mortar masonry, but he saw the ghat made up of precious metals (gold and silver) and studded with rare gems. Rubys, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds etc of such high purity and size were studded so generously that it was impossible to estimate the cost. Even then he tried to look at the broken corner and found on comparision with other corner, that he would not be able to get the matching gems for repair even if he was hundred times richer and spent all his fortune for this repair.

Now he knew the real nature of Swamiji. The scene changed again, now the ghat appeared to be ordinary stone-mortar masonry, but Akbar did not dare to undertake the repairs. Disillusioned, he walked back to Swamiji, bowed to him in dandvat, admitted his incapacity to touch anything in Vrindavan and left for Delhi along with Mian Tansen.