Scene 1

(Akbar’s palace. A large audience has assembled before Akbar. His court musician, Tansen, is playing soul-stirring music. Tansen sings.)

Kalpana go kalpana
tumiy amar bandana
dure tomai rakhbona
kalpana go kalpana
mithya mohe kandbona
kurup prane dakbona
khudra jaye hasbona
kalpana go kalpana
mrittyu dake jagbona
atma ami marbona
bhul pathe ar chalbona
kalpana go kalpana

(Imagination, O imagination!
You are my life’s adoration.
You I shall not keep afar.
Imagination, O imagination!
In false, binding lies I shall not cry.
I shall not welcome the life of impurity’s ugliness.
With paltry victory I shall not smile and rejoice.
Imagination, O imagination!
To death’s call I shall not respond.
The soul am I, no death have I.
No more, never, shall I walk along the wrong path.
Imagination, O Imagination!)

AKBAR: Tansen, your music carries me into the highest world, and there I enjoy such happiness, such delight. Tansen, I shall give you anything you want. You can have anything from me for the asking.

TANSEN: O Emperor, you have already given me name and fame by allowing me to play for you. What more do I need?

AKBAR: Tansen, although you get everything from me, if you have any special desire, ask me and I shall grant it. Anything that you want from me today I shall immediately give you.

TANSEN: I have everything I want. But I have one thing to tell you. You think that I am the best musician. But there is someone who is far better than I. He is the one who taught me how to play. I am no match for him.

MINISTER: O Akbar, O Emperor, your Tansen is very clever. He wants to gain more favour from you with his false modesty. Don’t believe him. He thinks that by telling you that there is somebody better than he is, he will gain more favour, more love, from you. This Tansen is so clever. He is the greatest musician, but he is also the greatest trickster. Don’t believe him, my Lord.

AKBAR: No, Tansen, I don’t believe you. But if it is true, then you should have told me about him before this.

TANSEN: O Emperor, you will never believe me. If I had told you about him, do you think he would have come to you? He does not care for name and fame as I do. He would not want to play here at your palace.

AKBAR: He must come and play here. I shall force him. I am the Emperor Akbar. Everyone is at my behest. He has to come and play. Go and bring him here.

TANSEN: I can go and bring him here, but I tell you, if you force him to play, he will play, but he will never play his real music. He is above name and fame. He shuns society.

AKBAR: All right, then I shall go to his house.

TANSEN: Well, if you go to his house, perhaps he will play. But he always shuns great men. If he sees that the Emperor has come, he will not play at all. If I request him, even if I plead with him, it will all be useless, because you are a great man, the greatest man on earth. Perhaps if you come with me as my servant, and if I tell him that my servant would like to hear his music, then he may condescend to grant my request.

AKBAR: All right, Tansen, I will visit your teacher as your servant. I want to hear your master’s music since you are praising him to the skies. But he had better be good!