Bismillah Khan

Ustad Bismillah Khan was a great Indian shehnai maestro of Benares and awarded with the Bharat Ratna in the year 2001 being the third classical musician. Bharat Ratna is the uppermost national honour in India. He got the fame worldwide for performing the shehnai more than eight decades.

Biography of Bismillah Khan

Birth history and background

He was born in the bihari Muslim family at the Bhirung Raut Ki Galim, Dumraon, Bihar at 21st March in 1916. He was the second son of the Paigambar Khan and Mitthan, named as Qamaruddin in order to rhyme with his brother Shamsuddin. It is considered that his grandfather, Rasool Baksh Khan called him as a Bismillah after caring him as a newborn. It is considered that the predecessors of the Bismillah Khan were court musicians and they accustomed to perform in the Naqqar khana at the princely states of Bhojpur (Currently Bihar). Bismillah Khan’s father was used to performing shehnai at the Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh court of the Dumraon Estate, Bihar.

It is believed that when he was just six, he went to the Varanasi and completed his training under the guidance of his uncle, the Ali Baksh Vilayatu. His uncle was playing shehnai at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.

Religious history

He was the great follower of the Saraswati (the Hindu Goddess of wisdom and arts) even he was from Muslim religion. He was also fan of the many Indian musicians and played shehnai at the Hindu temples including the renowned Vishwanath Temple at the banks of the river Gange in Varanasi. He had performed for divine master the Prem Rawat.

Career history of Bismillah Khan

Perhaps he was the only one performing the shehnai (a famous classical instrument) single-handedly. In the All India Music Conference Calcutta in 1937; he gave shehnai the center stage of Indian music. He was one of the best musicians in the Indian classical music and he is renowned for his monopoly over the shehnai and Hindu-Muslim unity. In his whole life he had played shehnai to his audiences all across the world and spread the message of peace and love through his music. He was fully dedicated to his art and even it is also considered that he referred his shehnai as his begum after the death of his wife. On his death, shehnai was also buried with his body.

His performances at the Red Fort in Delhi

Bismillah Khan had won the rarest rare honor of performing at the Red Fort in Delhi on the evening of the Independence Day of India in 1947. He also had performed the raga Kafi at the eve of first Republic Day ritual on 26 January in 1950 from the Red Fort. This performance of him is added as a cultural part of the Independence Day celebrations of India and his show is telecast every year on the 15th August on Doordarshan channel. Doordarshan channel broadcast the live performance of shehnai maestro just after the prime minister’s speech at Lal Qila in Old Delhi. This custom is followed from the period of Pandit Nehru.

Filmy history

Bismillah Khan had a brief history in the Indian movies. He has played his shehnai for the role of Rajkumar in the Kannada movie Sanaadi Appanna. He acted in Jalsaghar (a movie by Satyajit Ray) and played shehnai in Goonj Uthi Shehnai in 1959. Film director the Goutam Ghose has directed the Sange Meel Se Mulaqat upon the life of Bismillah Khan.

His Student life

He rarely accepted students. He met with the Satguru Jagjit Singh Ji (present master of Namdhari Sikhs) and saw the very brilliant youngster, Baljit Singh Namdhari, playing the tarshenai. Bismillah Khan welcomed Baljit Singh Namdhari as a student. He accepted two more students, Kirpal Singh and Gurbaksh Singh Namdhari playing tarshenai in 1999. His another student is Usthad Hassan Bhai (at present in Kasaragod).

His personal life history

He got illness on 17th August of 2006 and admitted to the Heritage Hospital, Lanka Varanasi for his treatment. He died just after the four days of his admission into the hospital on 21st August of 2006 due to the chronic cardiac arrest. He left behind him a big family of five sons, three daughters and a large number of grandchildren.

The Government of India has declared his death day, a day of national mourning. His body was buried together with his begum, Shehnai at the Fatemain burial ground in the Varanasi beneath the neem tree. His body was buried with the 21-gun salute from the Indian Army.


Ustad Bismillah Khan got the Yuva Puraskar (for young artists in the field of music, theatre and dance) in the year 2007 in his honour.

Awards and Recognitions

  • Awarded with the Bharat Ratna in 2001.
  • Become fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1994.
  • Got Talar Mausiquee from Republic of Iran in 1992.
  • Awarded with the Padma Vibhushan in 1980.
  • Awarded with the Padma Bhushan in 1968.
  • Awarded with the Padma Shri in 1961.
  • Got Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1956.
  • Got Tansen Award by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Got three medals in the All India Music Conference in Calcutta in 1937.
  • Got the Honour of Best Performer in All India Music Conference in the Allahabad in 1930.
  • Bismillah Khan had honorary doctorates from Banaras Hindu University, Visva Bharati University and Santiniketan.
  • He was requested to come to play shehnai at the first Independence on 15th August, 1947 in Delhi Red Fort by the Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • He had participated in the World exhibition in Montreal.
  • He had participated in the Cannes Art Festival.
  • He had participated in Osaka Trade Fair.
  • He got his 80th birthday celebrated by the World Music Institute in the New York.

Frequently Asked Questions on Ustad Bismillah Khan

Q.1 What lesson did Bismillah Khan teach us?

Ans. Ustad Bismillah Khan can teach us two very important lessons about life: dedication and being honest about your work.

Q.2 How is Bismillah khan a symbol of India?

Ans. Bismillah Khan was a symbol of how India’s different religions could work together. He was a very religious Muslim, but used to play during the morning Aarti at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi. He also played at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a holy place for the Sikh people.

Q.3 Why was Bismillah Khan died?

Ans. On August 21, 2006, he had a heart attack and died.

Q.4 Why did Bismillah Khan get Bharat Ratna?

Ans. Bismillah Khan received Bharat Ratna because with his concerts, he kept classical music alive. He was a strong supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity, and he used his songs to spread the idea of brotherhood.

Q.5 What was the life story of Bismillah Khan?

Ans. Bismillah Khan was born in Dumraon, Bihar, on March 21, 1916.  Khan spent his whole life playing the shehnai with all his heart. Khan is known for having a simple life. He had won the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and Bharat Ratna.

Q.6 Why Bismillah Khan loves India?

Ans. Bismillah Khan has a lot of love for India and Banaras. He says that when he goes abroad, he misses the holy Ganga and India.

Q.7 Why did Bismillah Khan refused to leave India?

Ans. He loved India so much that he never wanted to live anywhere else. So, whenever he was in a different country, he always wished to go to Hindustan.

Q.8 What was the biggest achievement of Bismillah Khan?

Ans. Bismillah Khan got the Padma Shri for his work in Indian traditional music in 1961. He also won the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and the Bharat Ratna in 2001.

Q.9 What did Bismillah Khan do as a 5 year old?

Ans. Bismillah Khan used to sing the Bhojpuri song “chaita” when he was five years old in the Bihariji temple in his home town of Dumraon, Bihar. At the end of the song, the local Maharaja gave him a big laddu that weighed 1.25 kg as a reward.

Q.10 What inspired Bismillah Khan to invent ragas?

Ans. The moving water of the River Ganga gave him ideas for making up new “ragas” that were thought to be out of the shehnai’s range at the time.

Q.11 Why did Bismillah khan refuse to USA?

Ans. Bismillah Khan turned down a request from one of his students to open a shehnai school in the U.S. because he did not want to leave Hindustan, especially Banaras, the Ganga, and Dumraon.

Q.12 Why was Bismillah khan so much attached to Ganga?

Ans. Bismillah Khan grew up on the banks of the Ganga River. He also learned to play the shehnai there. This is why he loved the Ganga River so much.

Q.13 What was the conclusion of Bismillah Khan?

Ans. Bismillah Khan came from a musical family and hence took a keen interest in music. He teaches us a very important lesson about life. People get ahead in life through hard work and dedication.

Q.14 What happened when Bismillah made his first trip to Afghanistan?

Ans. Upon his first visit to Afghanistan, King Zahir Shah was overwhelmed by him that he awarded him with rare Persian carpets and other gifts.

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