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indian classical music Musical Maestros of India

Shehnai Maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

Bismillah Khan (born Qamaruddin Khan, 21 March 1916 – 21 August 2006), often referred to by the title Ustad, was an Indian musician credited with popularizing the shehnai, a reeded wooden wind instrument.

While the shehnai had long held importance as a folk instrument played primarily schooled in traditional ceremonies, Khan is credited with elevating its status and bringing it to the concert stage.

He was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001, becoming the third classical musician of India after M. S. Subbalakshmi  and Ravi Shankar to be awarded the Bharat Ratna.

Personal life

Bismillah Khan was born on 21 March 1916 into a family of traditional Muslim musicians at the town of Dumraon British India, as the second son of Paigambar Bux Khan and Mitthanbai.

His father was a court musician employed in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon Estate in Bihar. His two grandfathers Ustad Salar Hussain Khan and Rasool Bux Khan were also musicians in the Dumraon palace. 

He was named Qamruddin at birth, to rhyme with his elder brother’s name Shamsuddin. Upon seeing the newborn, his grandfather Rasool Baksh Khan, also a shehnai player, is said to have exclaimed “Bismillah”, or “In the name of Allah”, and thereafter he came to be known by this name.

At the age of six, he moved to Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, to be apprenticed to his maternal uncle, Ali Bux ‘Vilayatu’ Khan, a Shehnai player attached to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple

At the age of 14 Bismillah accompanied his uncle to the Allahabad music conference.

Students

Khan attributed his skill to the blessings of Nath (Shiva), and believed that there was little that he could teach his disciples. Khan seldom accepted students.

He thought that if he would be able to share his knowledge it wouldn’t be useful as it would only give his students a little knowledge.

Some of his disciples and followers include S. Ballesh, and Krishna Ballesh as well as Khan’s own sons, Nazim Hussain and Nayyar Hussain.

Death

On 17 March 2006, Bismillah Khan’s health deteriorated, and he was admitted to the Heritage Hospital, Varanasi for treatment.

Khan’s last wish – to perform at India Gate, could not be fulfilled. He wanted to pay tributes to the martyrs. He waited in vain till his last rites. He died of cardiac arrest on 21 August 2006.

The Government of India declared a day of national mourning on his death. His body along with a Shehnai was buried at Fatemaan burial ground of old Varanasi under a neem tree with a 21-gun salute from the Indian Army.

Legacy

Street in Hyderabad, Telangana, named after Bismallah Khan which was inaugurated by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and K Viswanath on 7 April 2013.

Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, instituted the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar in 2007, in his honour. It is given to young artists in the field of music, theatre and dance.

The Government of Bihar has proposed setting up of a museum, a town hall-cum-library and installation of a life-size statue at his birthplace in Dumraon.

Bismillah Khan was commemorated on his 102nd birth anniversary by Search Engine Google which showed a special doodle on its Indian home page for him on 21 March 2018.

In the documentary film, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, Clapton cites Bismillah Khan as an influence and how he tried to use his guitar to imitate the music of Khan’s woodwind instrument.

Awards and recognitions

Awards

Recognitions

Bismillah Khan had honorary doctorates from :

Others include


Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Though academically trained in modern Western Sciences, Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar is a crazy maniac of India's ageless, timeless ethnic arts, crafts & textiles. The rich & glorious cultural & spiritual heritage of India is a subject extremely dear to her heart, and the whole of this Blog has been dedicated to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide, to every nook & corner of the globe, through these simple Blog-posts. Any constructive criticisms & suggestions in this regard for improvement of the Blog 'MOST WELCOME'. Also, High-Quality Guest Blog-posts 'MOST WELCOME". LinkedIn Profile : https://in.linkedin.com/in/mala-chandrashekhar-04095917a

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