AKBAR, the great Moghul Emperor, ruled India in the sixteenth century. He was a patron of arts. His chief musician Mian Tansen was an accomplished singer of various ragas. On hearing that Tansen had the gift of getting lamps lit up by singing raga Deepak, the Emperor decided to test him. Akbar asked him to do so. Tansen pleaded not to make him sing Deepak because he knew the dire consequences. But the Emperor insisted. Tansen was compelled and he sang the raga Deepak.

Indeed his singing of raga Deepak did light up all the lamps of the palace. But at the same time Tansen too experienced intense burning within his own body. And the only remedy for cooling his burning was that somebody else truly sang raga Malhar. Tansen roamed around the country, but he found no such singer.

At last, he came to know that Vadnagar nourished arts and culture and he might find someone knowing Malhar truly there. He came to Vadnagar by nightfall. He decided to rest on the bank of Lake Sharmishtha.

In the early morning women began coming to the lake to fetch water. Tansen was watching them. Among them were two sisters named Tana and Riri. They filled their pitchers with water but soon Tana emptied her pitcher. She did this several times. Tansen was watching this. Riri asked Tana. “Sister, how long will you do like this?” Tana replied. “As long as we do not hear the tunes of Malhar.” Ultimately, Tana was satisfied when she succeeded in filling the pitcher in such a way that the water flowing in it emitted correct Malhar sounds.

Tansen, who was listening to their conversation, was greatly surprised. He knew that his search for someone knowing true Malhar had ended. He approached the two sisters and with folded hands said. “I am a Brahmin. I know Deepak and I sang it at the insistence of the Emperor. Now my whole body is on fire. I do not know Malhar. Only you can save me. Otherwise, I will die of burning within my body. Please sing Malhar so that the fire within me would be extinguished and my body will cool down. Please help me.”

Tana and Riri were shocked at such a request, but they took pity on the person because of his suffering. They told him to wait till they consulted the elders. The elders decided that the sisters would sing Malhar to help the Brahmin.

Tana and Riri began singing Malhar. The sky was slowly filled with black clouds of rain. Soon it started raining. By the time they finished their singing, it was raining real hard. Tansen was completely drenched in the cool rain water. His burning vanished like magic.

By now Tana, the elder sister, knew that the man pretending to be a Brahmin was none other than the famous singer Tansen. He only could sing true Deepak. And in her euphoria at the demonstration of her singing power of Malhar, she said. “You must be satisfied, Mian Tansen."

Now that his true identity was known, Tansen begged everybody present to forgive him and spare his life. People of Vadnagar understood his plight. But they let him go only after he promised that he would never tell anybody about Tana and Riri.

Tansen returned to Delhi. Akbar was greatly surprised to see him cured of his burning. He asked him. “Tansen, you said there was no cure for your burning. Now you are cured. How did it happen? Who cured it?” Tansen didn’t want to give the full answer so, he said. “O, Great Akbar, I reached a land where I heard true Malhar and my burning stopped.” Akbar was not satisfied with his answer. He sternly asked. “Who sang true Malhar and where?”

Tansen was afraid. If he gave away the secret, his promise would be broken. But he knew that if he didn’t tell the truth, he would be a victim of Akbar’s wrath. “Who and where?” Akbar thundered. Tansen feared for his life. He narrated everything that had happened at Vadnagar. He praised their singing power and also, their beauty and goodness.

Unfortunately, two princes of Akbar’s many Begums were secretly listening to their conversation. They were greatly fascinated by the story. They hatched a plan to kidnap Tana and Riri for themselves. Soon, they secretly left for Vadnagar on horseback all alone.

They arrived at Vadnagar by nightfall. The gates of the fort were closed so, they decided to spend the night outside. They chose a spot under a Banian tree on the shore of Lake Sharmishtha. They thought that in the morning they will be able to see Tana and Riri as Tasnsen had narrated.

When dawn broke over Lake Sharmishtha they woke up and waited. Soon the morning sun rose on its eastern shore. With shimmering golden waters the Lake looked very beautiful. Slowly women began arriving to the shore to fetch water as was their daily routine.

Soon, Tana and Riri too came talking and laughing with each another. The two princes had no difficulty in making out as to who they were. Even from a distance they looked quite distinct from other women. The two sisters began filling their pitchers with water by filtering it with a square piece of fine cloth the size of a large scarf.

When the pitchers were filled they took off the cloth and shook it off in the air for drying. The princes took it as a signal for calling them. Eagerly they approached the two sisters exclaiming loudly, “Allah be praised, how beautiful they are!” But all the women there were taken aback at the sight of two unknown men and started shouting for help. In no time many town people rushed to the spot and caught the princes. In their frenzy, they killed both the princes. Their horses too were killed. All the four of them were buried on the shore of the lake.

At the other end, when Akbar came to know about the absence of the two princes, he ordered his soldiers to find out them. After some time it was known that they had gone to Vadnagar and killed by the town people there. Now, Akbar was furious. He ordered his army to march to Vadnagar, punish the town people, and bring Tana and Riri to Delhi.

In a few days the army reached Vadnagar. It massacred all the men of the city, burned it, and captured Tana and Riri. The soldiers put the two sisters in a palquin and began their march back to Delhi. But the two sisters were determined to die rather than go to Delhi. When their palquin reached near the Mahakaleshvar temple, just outside the city gates, they sucked the diamonds they were wearing on their rings and died of the poison.

Their bodies were cremated there only। Later on two small temple-like structures were built there as their memorial. The people of the ancient city of Vadnagar never forgot Tana and Riri.

As a tribute to the two sisters Tana and Riri a classical music festival is held at Vadnagar in winter every year. Click below to view the year 2010 festival activities:

Singing raga Malhar truly can bring rain.

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