Remembering Shehnai Maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan on his 10th Death Anniversary

Bismillah Khan always considered himself married to shehnai, therefore he called it as "Begum" after his wife died

Ustad Bismillah Khan. Image source:

August 21, 2016:  You might not know him in person, but there is hardly anyone who has not come across his music at some point in their life. When this man played Shehnai, the world bowed. On this day, ten years back, in 2006, the Shehnai Maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan breathed his last, owing to the unfortunate cardiac arrest.

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One of the finest Indian classical musicians, Ustadji played shehnai for almost eight decades and uplifted the stature of Shehnai itself. Scroll down the article to know more about the maestro who single-handedly changed elevated the instrument Shehnai-

I. Wikipedia says that Bismillah Khan was born in 1916 but a couple of other Websites mention that he was born in 1913, as Qamaruddin Khan on March 21 in a family of traditional Muslim musicians in Bhirung Raut Ki Gali, Dumraon (which is now Bihar).

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II. He moved to Varanasi at the age of six and received his training under his uncle, the late Ali Baksh ‘Vilayatu’, a shehnai player attached to Varanasi’s Vishwanath Temple. Attending musical concerts from an early age helped him further to learn the nuances of music.

III. By birth, he was a Shia Muslim, which made it difficult for him to learn music, as the religion considers it ‘haram’ or forbidden. Due to his fondness for music, he found a way out of the situation and started worshipping Hindu Goddess Saraswati.

Ustad Bismillah Khan. Image source: prasarbharati
Ustad Bismillah Khan. Image source: prasarbharati

IV. Shehnai was brought into the spotlight, after his concert in All India Music Conference (1937) that was hugely appreciated by the music lovers.

V. He was one of the classical musicians who had the privilege of playing live at New Delhi’s Red Fort on the eve of India’s Independence Day and Republic Day and it was India’s former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s decision to have his recital telecast on Doordarshan on August 15, every year.

VI. In 2001, he was awarded Bharat Ratna by Government of India for his extraordinary contribution in the field of classical music and particularly uplifting Shehnai as an instrument- from being played at weddings to being played at music concerts. Apart from that, he was also a recipient of Padma Vibhushan in 1980, Padma Bhushan in 1968 and the Padma Shri in 1961.

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VII. It is true that music is way beyond the barriers of language and religion. Bismillah Khan had proved that over and over again. He had a huge fan following across the globe. This Indian gem has performed in several countries such as USA, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Europe, Canada, Iran, Iraq, West Africa, Japan and Hong Kong.

VIII. Ustad Ji had always considered himself married to Shehnai as he shared a special bond it. This is evident as he called his instrument shehnai as “Begum” after his wife died.

IX. For Bismillah Khan, music was his religion and therefore he never taught music as he thought that there was so much to learn and he is not the master yet. But, for his sons Nazim Hussain and Nayyar Hussain, he made an exception. He had a large family to take care of that consisted of 3 sons, 5 daughters and grandchildren. Still, he adopted a daughter, Dr Soma Ghosh, who is now a popular Hindustani Shastriya sangeet artist.

X. He breathed his last at the age of 90, on 21st August 2006, after suffering from a cardiac arrest. His Shehnai was buried with him in his grave in Fatemain burial ground, at Varanasi.

– prepared by NewsGram Team