Bismillah Khan

Biography of 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.

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.

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