The journey of human life is short, but there are very few people who live a mark on this world with their legacy and are remembered forever. Ustad Bismillah Khan, the renowned Shehnai player was one such individual. Without him, the true musical magic of a woodwind instrument known as Shehnai wouldn’t have gained so much popularity in the Indian subcontinent. He played a significant role in popularizing SHEHNAI, which, otherwise was known to only a handful of the populace, through his extraordinary skills. What was considered to be a mere folk instrument rose up to be recognized as a classical instrument. Not only he impressed Asian music lovers but also made thousands of Western country people recognize and appreciate the potential of Shehnai, all thanks to Bismillah Khan.
The maestro of the great shehnai of India, better known as Qamaruddin Khan and born on March 21, 1916 in the city of Dumraon in Bihar. He was born as the second son to Paigambar khan and Mitthanbai. His father was a renowned Shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon. Since his childhood, he grew up in a musical environment and naturally developed an interest towards Shehnai after watching his father play the instrument. He had ancestors who were a courtier in the royal princely state of Dumraon in Bihar, and since childhood, the prodigy grew up with his uncle who lived in the Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, where he was the master of playing shehnai. He was then trained under his uncle ‘Ali Baksh’ and perfected many ragas like Thumri, Kajri, Cheti and Savani at an early age.
He, then, never looked back. He perfected the instrument every bit and at the Calcutta All India Music Conference in 1937, the maestro brought the shehnai to the limelight and acknowledgement of Hindustani classical music and played the instruments across the globe like Afghanistan, USA, Canada, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, West Africa, Japan, Hong Kong and in various parts of Europe throughout his career
He got this rare opportunity on 15th of August, 1947, on the occasion of India’s independence, Bismillah Khan was invited to play the shehnai at the Red Fort in Delhi. He added another feather to his cap when on 26th of January, 1950, on the occasion of the first Republic Day of India, Raag Kafi was enshrined with the magical notes of Shehnai which filled the heart of Nation with patriotism
Bismillah Khan has been felicitated a number of times with national awards such as the Padma Vibhushan in 1980, the Padma Bhushan in 1968, the Padma Shri in 1961, the Sangeet Natak Academy Award and the Tansen Award in 1956. Not only in India, but Khan had mesmerized people with his art overseas too, which includes Europe, Iran, Iraq, Canada, America, Japan and Afghanistan. In 2001, Bismillah Khan was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest award for making a name for India in classical music on the world platform.
Apart from his musical career, he was known to be a very down to earth person, who had little interest in the worldly possessions. He was an ardent worshipper of goddess Saraswati despite himself being a Shia Muslim, thus spreading the message of Hindu – Muslim unity. He always used to say that music has no caste and it will live on even if the world ceases to exist. Thus proving him to be a symbol of religious unity.
On 21st of August, 2006 Ustad Bismillah Khan left for the heavenly abode at the age of 90 in Varanasi due to cardiac arrest.
Undoubtedly, Ustad Bismillah Khan was a prodigy, a maestro and a personality of skill and simplicity. The legacy he has left behind will be remembered by generations to come and the standard he has set for the classical music will serve as inspiration and motivate the young generation to try and achieve the same. Ustad Bismillah Khan was an epitome of simplicity, dedication, humanity and a flawless human being and of course irreplaceable in regards to classical music. He will always remain in the hearts of the Indians and we all take pride in carrying forward his legacy.