Akbar, Tansen and Swami Haridas


Swami Haridas, right, with Tansen, center, and Akbar, left, at Vrindavana  (1700 AD – 1760 CE) Artist unknown

On my ritual pilgrimage to the Google Art Project this morning I visited the National Museum, Delhi. Browsing through the gallery one covered a period of 4200 years in a couple of clicks. I had intended to write about a statue of an Indus Valley unhumped bull dating back to 2700 BCE and its superb proportions. Instead, my eyes settled on an early 18th century painting of a visit the Mughal emperor Akbar supposedly paid to Swami Haridas, the reclusive guru of Tansen, the most famous court musician of his day.


Unhumped Bull, Mohenjodaro (National Museum, Delhi) 2700 BCE

The painting by an unknown artist was done over a century after Akbar’s time (14 February 1556 – 27 October 1605) and it is being written about by me over three centuries later.

I was utterly captivated by the flora and fauna of Vrindavan, the charming putative hub of Krishna some 110 miles from Delhi, as captured by the painter. Unfortunately, I could not tell you any of the names of the trees, plants and flowers. I have always been poor at remembering floral and faunal nomenclature. I can identify banana and mango trees in the serenely pastoral grove. There are lovely creepers and vines. One can see peacocks, parrots, monkeys and many other birds in the painting.

I have visited Vrindavan many times and can tell you from firsthand experience that that the unknown artist has done a great job of capturing the landscape and its various hues.


At first glance the three men may appear similar. However, once you examine them closely you can see distinct differences in their facial structures, complexions and body types. All three are unshod, although I am presuming in the case of Tansen because his feet cannot be seen. The painter has labeled the names of the three to ensure that the viewers know who’s who.


Emperor Akbar




Swami Haridas

The story behind the painting is that Akbar wanted Haridas to come to his court and perform. Tansen said his guru would never do that. So the emperor visited Haridas along with Tansen. The reclusive musician was said to have sung for Akbar in this particular grove.

I do not know this for a fact but it is safe to say that the emperor and his chief musician would have set out on their horses from the Mughal capital in Fatehpur Sikri. The distance of close to 40 miles to Vrindavan would have been covered in a few hours. It is possible that a royal messenger or an advance team would have been sent beforehand to alert Swami Haridas to the impending royal visit. 


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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