Ustad Bismillah Khan was undoubtedly a gem that India is proud of. This Shehnai maestro of India was a Bharat Ratna awardee and also has been awarded all the top four civilian awards namely Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan along with the Bharat Ratna. Born on 21st March, 1916 in Dumraon, Bihar, he was the second son of Paigambar Khan and Mitthan. His family had a musical background and his ancestors were musicians in the court of the princely states of Bhojpur. Read about the life history of this blessed soul in this short biography of Bismillah Khan.
Bismillah Khan was named Qamaruddin to sound like his elder brother's
name Shamsuddin. However, when his grandfather Rasool Baksh Khan saw him
as a baby he uttered the word "Bismillah" and hence he came to
be known as Bismillah Khan. His father used to be a shehnai player in
the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon. Despite the fame
that he achieved, Bismillah Khan always remained where his roots were.
He never accumulated wealth and other materialistic possessions and
lived in humble surroundings in the holy city of Benares. Such was his
love for his city that he declined an offer for permanent Visa for
settling in US.
His teacher and mentor was his uncle Ali Baksh 'Vilayatu', a renowned
shehnai player. Bismillah Khan religiously practiced the shehnai and
attained perfection in a very short time. He fully takes the credit for
making the shehnai one of the most famous classical music instruments.
His concert in All India Music Conference (1937) in Calcutta brought
shehnai into limelight and was hugely appreciated by music lovers. He
monopolized shehnai recital in the post independence era and kept the
legacy of classical music alive with his recitals. He can be truly
called a pure artist who always believed that music will survive even if
the world perishes. He believed in Hindu-Muslim unity and spread the
message of brotherhood through his music. He always announced that music
has no caste.
Bismillah Khan had the rare honor of playing his shehnai on the eve of
India's independence in the year 1947. He performed at the Red Fort in
Delhi and since that year he has always played on 15th August right
after the Prime Minister gave his speech. Bismillah Khan has played in
many countries and has a huge fan following. He has performed in
Afghanistan, USA, Canada, Bangladesh, Europe, Iran, Iraq, West Africa,
Japan and Hong Kong. He shared a special bond with his shehnai and
called it "Begum" after his wife died. On 21st August 2006, at
the age of 90, Bismillah Khan breathed his last after having a cardiac
arrest. His shehnai was buried with him in his grave.