Tansen / Surdas / Haridas [painting]
The fine Sarangi.info website shows this delightful depiction of vocalist forebears on its vocal music page.
Tansen, the music student (who was the favorite court singer for Emperor Akbar) is seen in foreground. I presume the poet-saint-singer Surdas is the chap with turban, while the great forest-dwelling composer-singer Haridas is the ascetic fellow with the tamboura. From the lineage of such singers comes the Hindustani music known to the world today. And what they developed, itself flowed down from unseen antiquity.
Regarding the poetry of Surdas, one bio-note says:
Surdas was very prolific composer in his life. He is known for his "Sur Sagar" (Ocean of Melody). This magnum opus is said to originally contain 100,000 poems or songs; however, today only 8000 have survived.Well observed -- except that last sentence doesn't ring quite right. Surdas might indeed have owed much to Kabir -- but not, I think, involving the Radha-Krishna Lila (an imagery that was by and large spurned by Kabir, who favoring worship of the attributeless God).
It is interesting to note that Surdas' poetry was in the language of Brij Bhasha. This dialect of Hindustani was considered to be a very crude language. At the time, the literary languages were primarily Persian and Sanskrit. Sur Das' work is one of a number of works that is credited with raising Brij Bhasha from the status of a vulgate into that of a literary language.
The philosophy of Surdas' work is a reflection of the times. He was very much immersed in the Bhakti movement that was sweeping India. This movement represented a grass roots spiritual empowerment of the masses. Surdas in particular was a proponent of the Shuddhadvaita school of Vaishnavism (also known as Pushti Marg). This is no doubt due to the training he received under his spiritual Guru Sri Vallabhacharya. This philosophy is based upon the spiritual metaphor of the Radha-Krishna Lila (The celestial dance between Radha and Lord Krishna). This is derived from earlier saints such as the great Kabir Das.
This website offers English renderings of 30 short songs by Surdas (but fails to note who the translator is, nor does it give the poems in the original language).
But the Wikipedia entry about Surdas gives two songs in the original, with transliteration and translation. Nice to note that dharo / karo / paro / kharo / bharo / paro / hagaro / Taro. Makes one want to find out what each word means . . .
Ah, and this RAAGA site has audio clips of some Surdas songs in renditions by Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, and Ashwini Bhide. Except the "jukebox" isn't working for me. But the same 7 songs (all from a film about Surdas, evidently) can be heard here. Very filmi -- a young Bhimsen Joshi, seems. (I suppose it may be from the 1978 film.) Bhimsen Joshi's second song ("Khelat Shyam") is particularly nice (rendered with bansuri and saranghi). What is the raag?
mmm, the fourth song ("Maharaj Bhavani") is quite nice too -- a style of bhajan that I associate a bit with Bharata Natyam (and to my ears, it hints at Karnatic style, though others might not agree). Evidently something about Shankara (Siva).
The second song done by Jasraj ("Shyam Bina") is the most classical of these (presented with sitar interludes) -- the sort of thing one might hear toward the close of a classical concert. But they keep the best for last, with Ashwini Bhide's leisurely-paced (vilambit), fine rendition of "Sundar Vadan" (in some sort of mishra raag) -- pity (at 5 min.) the song's so brief. ["Sundar" I know to mean beauty. "Vadan" I find to mean (variously) speech, mouth, face, worship, prayer. So is this a song about beautiful words, a beautiful face, or a beautiful prayer?]
On second thought, I suppose it may be Haridas and Tansen who are the guys (turbaned) who go to visit the blind forest-singer with shaved head (Surdas) -- though (from this somewhat fuzzed image) the bald fellow seems to have eyes open, and the turbaned oldster doesn't. Will the real Surdas please stand up?