India’s Ustad Bismillah Khan was a famous Shehnai player. His name was and will always be connected with shehnai, the musical instrument that he made popular in post-independence India through his talent and thoughtfulness. Khan came from a family of traditional Bihar musicians who used to perform in the princely states’ palaces, thus playing shehnai came naturally to him. He was exceptional at what he did, which is why he had always performed for national audiences at key national occasions such as the first Indian Independence Day and the first Republic Day. Khan became a national favorite not just because of his simplicity, love of music, and straightforwardness, but also because of his fame and affection in the west. Khan was given the title of ‘Ustad’ for his originality and mastery of his craft, and he received several awards including the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, and honorary doctorates from Banaras Hindu University and Viswa Bharati University.
Childhood and Adolescence
Bismillah Khan was born in 1913 to Paigambar Khan and Mitthan in Bhirung Raut Ki Gali in Dumrao, Bihar, into a musical household. His forebears were musicians in the princely realms of the period, such as Bhojpur, Bihar, and his father was a shehnai player in Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh’s court at Dumrao. Khan was sent to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, when he was six years old, where he got music tuition from his uncle Ali Baksh, a well-known shehnai player who used to perform at Varanasi’s Vishwanath Temple.
Career of Bismillah Khan
Khan learned and perfected the technique of shehnai in a short period of time. With his innate skill and remarkable commitment, it is not a stretch to argue that he was the one who made shehnai a well-known classical instrument.
Khan elevated shehnai to the forefront of Indian classical music with his performance at the All India Music Conference in Calcutta in 1937. He was so good at playing that his name was quickly associated to the instrument.
Khan was asked to play live in the Red Fort in Delhi by the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, on the occasion of India’s first independence day celebrations in 1947. This was one of his most well-known performances.
In 1950, he played once more at Red Fort in Delhi, this time on the occasion of India’s first Republic Day.
Khan did not just perform for an Indian audience, but also for a worldwide public on several occasions. He attended the Cannes Art Festival, the Osaka Trade Fair, and the Montreal World Exposition. Khan has a long and illustrious career in the film industry. For the kannada language film Sadaadi Appanna, he performed exquisite shehnai symphonies. In 1958, he appeared in Satyajit Ray’s film Jalsaghar. He also acted in a number of other films, including Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959), Sange Meel Se Mulaqat, a documentary on his own life, and The Graduate, in which he played a musician (1967).
Major Projects of Bismillah Khan
Khan spent his whole life to playing shehnai with zeal, a practice he helped to preserve in post-independence India. Shehnai would have been obsolete in the newly independent India if it hadn’t been for him. He transformed the shehnai into one of Asia’s most popular musical instruments.
Achievements & Awards
Khan was given the title of ‘Ustad’ and received several awards, including the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, and honorary doctorates from Banaras Hindu University and Viswa Bharati University, among others.
Personal History and Legacy
Khan leaves behind five daughters, three sons, and a slew of grandkids and great-grandchildren. He also had a daughter named Dr. Soma Ghosh, whom he adopted. She is a well-known exponent of Hindustani shastriya sangeet.
He died of heart arrest in 2006. At Fatemain burial cemetery in Varanasi, he was buried with his shehnai in a national ceremony.
Estimated Net Worth
Bismillah Khan is one of the wealthiest cricketers and one of the most popular. Bismillah Khan’s net worth is estimated to be $7 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
The Indian Army saluted him with a 21-gun salute at his funeral ceremony.
Khan seldom took pupils under his wing, and the only persons he worked with in that capacity were S. Ballesh and his own sons, Nazim and Nayyar Hussain.