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Ustad Bismillah Khan

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Ustad Bismillah Khan’s biography

Ustad Bismillah Khan Sahib (March 21, 1916 – August 21, 2006) was a shehnai maestro.He was the third classical musician to be awarded the Bharat Ratna (in 2001), the highest civilian honour in India.

Bismillah Khan was born on March 21, 1916 at Bhirung Raut Ki Gali, in Dumraon, Bihar as the second son of Paigambar Khan and Mitthan. He was named as Qamaruddin to rhyme with Shamsuddin, their first son. His grandfather, Rasool Baksh Khan uttered "Bismillah" (the basmala) after looking at the newborn, thus he was named Bismillah Khan.His ancestors were court musicians and used to play in Naqqar khana in the princely states of Bhojpur, now in Bihar state. His father was a shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon Estate, now in Bihar.

Though a pious Shi'ite Muslim, he was also, like many Indian musicians regardless of religion, a devotee of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of wisdom and the arts, and often played at Hindu temples, including the famous Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, on the banks of the river Ganga.He was a student of the spiritual master Prem Rawat.

He received his training under his uncle, the late Ali Baksh 'Vilayatu', a shehnai player attached to Varanasi's Vishwanath Temple.

Khan was perhaps single handedly responsible for making the shehnai a famous classical instrument. He brought the shehnai to the center stage of Indian music with his concert in the Calcutta All India Music Conference in 1937. He was credited with having almost monopoly over the instrument as he and the shehnai are almost synomyms.

Khan is one of the finest musicians in post-independent Indian Classical music and one of the best examples of hindu-muslim unity in India.

His concept of music was very beautiful and his vision, superb. He once said, "Even if the world ends, the music will still survive" and he often said, "Music has no caste".

He has played in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Europe, Iran, Iraq, Canada, West Africa, U.S., USSR, Japan, Hong Kong and almost every capital city across the world.

His shehnai was so close to him that after the demise of his wife he began to refer to it as his begum, or wife. After his death, his shehnai was buried with him.

Khan had the rare honor of performing at Delhi's Red Fort on the eve of India's Independence in 1947. He also performed Raga Kafi from the Red Fort on the eve of India’s first Republic Day ceremony, on January 26, 1950. His recital had become a cultural part of India's Independence Day Celebrations, telecast on Doordarshan every year on August 15th. After the Prime Minister's speech from Lal Qila (the Red Fort,) in Old Delhi, Doordarshan would broadcast a live performance by the shehnai maestro. This tradition dated from the days of Pandit Nehru.
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Grace on Ustad Bismillah Khan:
26 May,2012 at 10:17 PM
Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan changed how India perceived the humble Shehnai forever. Bismillah Khan brought the Shehnai to the centre stage of Indian classical music which won him accolades in India as well as abroad.

Bismillah Khan, though being a Muslim by religion, was an ardent devotee of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of wisdom, knowledge and arts. He even played at several Hindu temples.
Bismillah Khan was born on March 21, 1916 in Bihar. He hailed from a lineage of well known court musicians who performed in the erstwhile princely state of Dumraon in the present Bihar. Bismillah Khan was trained under his uncle, the late Ali Bux Vilayatu, a Shehnai player attached to Varanasi's Vishwanath temple.

By performing to a spellbound audience in Calcutta’s All India Music Conference in 1937, he announced to the world of his arrival. He had the honour of performing at the Red Fort when India received Independence. Bismillah Khan swept everyone off their feet with his heart-touching rendering of the Raga Kafi at the Red Fort on the eve of India's first Republic Day ceremony on January 26, 1950.

He was greatly attached to Varanasi and the Ganga River. A true incident that brings out this attachment was when an American university invited Bismillah Khan to be their musician-in-residence, he replied saying that he would be a part of it only if he could bring his River Ganga with him. Bismillah Khan performed in various parts of the world and in almost every capital city across the globe.

Ustad Bismillah Khan received several awards including the Padma Vibhushan (1980), Padma Bhushan (1968), Padma Shri (1961), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1956), and the Tansen Award by Government of Madhya Pradesh. In 2001, Ustad Bismillah Khan became the third classical musician to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour.

He passed away due to a cardiac arrest on August 21, 2006.

Sangeet Natak Akademi situated in Delhi, instituted the 'Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar' in 2007. This award is given to young artists in the field of music, theatre and dance.

Bismillah Khan spread the message of brotherhood through his music and has made the citizens of India proud with his overwhelmingly melodic music created through the Shehnai. His legacy will live forever.
Dr.ravindra Mukerjee.. on Ustad Bismillah Khan:
21 Feb,2010 at 08:44 AM
I was fortunate to listen to him, a live performance during Asian trade fair 1972, Pragati Maidan., New Delhi. Down to earth he was a genuine human being like his Shahanai, perhaps the almighty himself created him.
Latha on Ustad Bismillah Khan:
17 Sep,2009 at 12:47 AM
Godly devotion to music...Usthadji breathed life in to it...
Tamal De on Ustad Bismillah Khan:
07 May,2009 at 06:47 PM
I had the honour of meeting Him once. A great man... So down to earth. We were a group of young musicians who went to meet him. He never made us feel that he was any greater than any of us. He treated us as if we are all his equal as all of us were devotees of the Goddess Saraswati..
Deepa Tilwalli on Ustad Bismillah Khan:
21 Mar,2009 at 07:59 PM
Nice music soothing to hear.

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