“Tana, can you pull up the last bucket? My arms are aching.” Riri, thoroughly tired after pulling 7-8 buckets of water from the well, called out to her sister who was busy shifting water into different pots. Even though Tana immediately stopped what she was doing to help out her sister, Riri’s mood wasn’t improved. She was very well aware that they would have to carry back the pots to their home, which was nearly 2 kilometers afar.
In an effort to cheer up their morning chore, Riri started singing while shifting water.
Seeing her sister enjoying the song, Tana joined her while pulling the water from the well. Both the sisters established the rhythm of singing with their chore. Out of the blue, they heard footsteps coming from the south. Putting a hand over their temple to shield their eyes against the morning sun, both the sisters stood on their tip toes and craned their neck to see what was happening. Although they couldn’t see much clearly, they did realize that an assembly of few men carrying something huge was coming toward them. For few moments, they were scared. Was their village going to be attacked? Or were these men bandits out to rob their village?
“Riri, who are all these men? Do you think we should run to our village and notify them about this development?”Although Tana found the idea of running against her principles, she wanted to alert the villagers. Maybe they could gear up for the battle and give a mighty fight to these men.
“I don’t think we need to do that.” Riri was able to see the approaching group with better clarity. “These men don’t look like bandits. They are wearing soldiers’ uniform. Also, it seems they are carrying some kind of bed.”
Both the sisters decided to wait and see what the procession was about. When the men came near them, they could see that they were carrying someone in a bed; someone who was groaning and moaning in pain. Now their curiosity was piqued. Instead of wondering about it for hours, Tana decided to ask the men there and then. “Oh mighty men, from where are you coming and whom are you carrying?”
“Oh lady, we are King Akbar’s soldiers. And the man on the bed is Tansen.” Saying this, the men put down the bed to rest under the shade of the tree near the well. One of them asked Riri for water. “Milady, would you be kind enough to offer us some water? We are short on water.”
When Riri was busy offering water to the men, Tana approached the bed. What she saw next horrified her enough to make her gasp. “Are these burns from Deepak raag?”
Tana’s question surprised Tansen. “Yes. It seems you have an immense knowledge about music. Do you know raag Malhaar? If you can sing that, my life can be saved.”
“Yes, my sister and I are proficient in music. We are Vadnagara Nagars. Generally we don’t sing for anyone except for our God, but we will sing to save your life. Before we do that, please do tell us why did you sing the Deepak raag when there wasn’t anyone to sing the Malhaar raag?”
“Actually I didn’t want to sing the Deepak raag but the king Akbar was adamant. So I sang to please the king. However, now I am on fire. Until now I couldn’t find anyone who could sing raag Malhaar to put out the fire in me. Please lady, do me a favor and do sing for me. If you save my life, I would remain eternally grateful to you.”
Seeing Tansen’s pain, Tana called Riri and they both started singing. Their melodious Malhaar raag brought on the rain that put out Tansen’s fire. Each and every drop of rain worked like magic. Tansen’s burns disappeared without leaving any scars. Tansen, relieved and grateful, couldn’t thank Tana and Riri enough. When Tansen offered to go to the king and get a special reward granted for them, both of them refused. “We are not professional singers. We do not sing in front of anyone but God and so any kind of reward for our singing talent would be an insult to our community. We would also appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell this to anyone as this might jeopardize our reputation.”
Tansen understood their perspective. Gracefully accepting their request to not to tell anyone about them, he went back to the king happily.
“Tansen, how did you recover so miraculously? Didn’t you say finding anyone with the knowledge of Malhaar raag was next to impossible?”
“Yes, my king. But I met some adroit singers who saved my life. I am eternally grateful to them.”
“Do tell me who they are. I too would like to listen to them.”
“With all the due respect my king, I cannot tell you their names. They have requested me to not to do so.”
Listening Tansen defying his order, Akbar got angry. “How dare you? You refuse to fulfill my request? I will have you executed!”
Tansen was scared for his life now. “But my king, those singers specifically asked me to not to do so as the revelation of their name will put them in trouble.”
The king could understand Tansen’s reluctance, but he was the king. He will get what he wanted. “Tansen, don’t worry. I will protect them and will make sure that they will never lack for anything in their life. Do tell me their names.”
Tansen knew that defying the king’s request was out of question now if he wanted to live. Hesitantly he told the king about Tana and Riri. “Also, they said that they do not sing in front of anyone but their God.”
Akbar’s curiosity elevated. He had to listen to those girls. And how could the girls refuse to sing for him? Of course, they will be grateful for his patronage no matter how much they pretended otherwise. Ignoring Tansen’s protests, Akbar ordered his soldiers to bring Tana and Riri to his court.
After reading the king’s summons, Tana and Riri’s father broke out in sweats. How could he send his daughters to the king’s court to sing? They weren’t lowly gypsies. They were Vadnagara Nagar girls, full of pride, respect and knowledge. Just because they were talented, Akbar couldn’t insult his girls like that. He refused to obey the summons. Akbar’s commander was furious. How could a mere man refuse to answer the king’s orders?
He took the summons to Vadnagar’s leader. As the Nagar girls never sang before anyone but God, the summons was refused by the leader too.
“But you cannot refuse the king’s order.” Akbar’s commander couldn’t believe that his king’s order was summarily dismissed by the entire community. “If you do so, Akbar will attack the village. You have 48 hours to think upon it. Either Tana and Riri comes to the king’s court or the king is going to attack the village.”
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Listening to the king’s commander, the villagers got scared. They knew how powerful the king Akbar was. The leader of the community called Tana and Riri’s father. “You have to send your daughters to the king’s court.”
The father was aghast at the suggestion. “But how can I do that to my daughters? You know that we Vadnagara Nagars don’t sing in front of anyone. How can my daughters go to that Muslim king’s court and sing there? It’s as good as losing their reputation. Who will marry them? They will be sullied!”
“I don’t care about that. I am responsible for the entire Vadnagar village. If your daughters won’t go to the court, the king will attack us. Do you think we have enough resources to fight the mighty king Akbar?”
“Yes, I know that, but still I think we can have some sort of communication with the king to convince him how we can’t do that.”
“We have tried everything. It seems the king is adamant about listening to Tana and Riri. Send them to the court. And if you won’t do it, leave the village. I can’t jeopardize the lives of every Nagar to save your daughters.”
“Please, how can you do that to us? I beg you. Protect my daughters! They are the part of this community too! Don’t they have the right to your protection too?”
“They have, but in this case, I can’t help you or them. This situation is out of my hands.” Softening his tone, the leader tried to convince the father. “Please send them to the court. King Akbar might reward them a treasure. That will take care of your daughters for the rest of their lives.”
The father knew he couldn’t do that to his daughters. Dejected and depressed, he didn’t know what to do. But one thing was for sure: he’d rather kill himself than let his daughters sing in the king’s court. He went home and told his wife to pack their belongings. “But where will we go?” His wife couldn’t keep the anxiety out of her voice. “This has been our home since generations. All our ancestors have lived here and died here.”
“I know that.” The father too hated to move but he didn’t see any other alternative. “But to live here, I can’t send my daughters to the king’s court as bloody singers. And that too to a Muslim king’s court.” The mother knew her husband was right. Quietly she started packing their things for the journey.
Both Tana and Riri were standing behind the door, listening to their parents talking. They were regretting singing for Tansen. Hadn’t they saved Tansen’s life, they wouldn’t be facing this situation. They didn’t want to be a burden for anyone; they didn’t want their parents to suffer due to their stupidity. Both of them went to the well, the place from where the debacle had started.
“Tana, what do you think we should do?” Riri wanted to jump off in the well. But she wasn’t sure if that would solve the problem.“Do you think we should die? I think if we aren’t alive, the king can’t attack the village.”
“Really? Do you think if we die, the king will spare our parents and the village?”
“Yes, I think so.”
Both of them started contemplating death in silence. They were in their early 20s with dreams of getting married and starting a family. It seemed to them their dreams weren’t meant to turn into a reality. Hugging each other, they sobbed for their broken dreams and ruined lives. Nobody was there to save them. The only alternative left for them was death.
Tana and Riri climbed the wall of the well and looked down. Before jumping off, both of them looked at each other and took a vow. “This village, Vadnagar, where the Vadnagara Nagars reside, has turned its back on us for their own safety. They failed to protect us even though we were a part of them. We couldn’t live here peacefully. Before we die, we curse this village. The way we couldn’t live in this village in peace, no Vadnagara Nagar will be able to live in this village. If anyone dares to spend even a single night in the village, he/she will be ruined physically, mentally and financially. No Vadnagara Nagar will find peace in Vadnagar.”
Cursing the entire community of the Vadnagara Nagars, Tana and Riri jumped into the well.
PS: This story is a famous folklore among Vadnagara Nagars. We indeed do not spend a single night in Vadnagar when we visit the village. It has been rumored that whosoever has dared to do so, he/she has lost everything that has been dear to him/her.