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Remembering Ustad Bismillah Khan: 7 Interesting Facts About the Shehnai Maestro

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Last Updated: August 21, 2019, 10:10 IST

Indian Clarinettist Ustad Bismillah Khan (L) performs during a show in Srinagar, India September 12, 2005/REUTERS

Indian Clarinettist Ustad Bismillah Khan (L) performs during a show in Srinagar, India September 12, 2005/REUTERS

As we observe the 13th death anniversary of the great Shehnai maestro, here are a number of interesting facts about the musician that all his fans should know.

Ustad Qamruddin ‘Bismillah’ Khan is not an unknown to any music lover in India and abroad. Born on March 21, Bismillah Khan left for his heavenly abode on August 21, 2006. Ustad, as he was popularly known, got recognition for popularizing the shehnai, a sub continental wind instrument of the oboe class. For his extraordinary talent, Khan was also awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001. He became the third classical musician after M S Subbalakshmi and Ravi Shankar to be awarded Bharat Ratna.

As we observe the 13th death anniversary of the great Shehnai maestro, here are a number of interesting facts about the musician that all his fans should know:

-- Born in Dumaron, Bihar, Ustad Bismillah Khan was a recipient of Bharat Ratna (2001), Padma Bhushan (1968), Padma Vibhushan (1980) and the Padma Shri (1961).
-- While he was born as Qamaruddin Khan, he later added ‘Bismillah’ to his name. It is said that when his grandfather heard about his birth, he thanked Allah and said 'Bismillah' and since then his name has become Bismillah.

-- He learnt to play shehnai from his maternal uncle Alibaksh Vilayati, when Khan went to Varanasi. Khan learned various ragas like Thumri, Chaitti, Kajri and Swani. He also studied Khayal music later.

-- Bismillah Khan’s first public performance was in the Indian Music Conference in Kolkata in 1937. However, he got the biggest break in 1938, when he got a chance to work in Lucknow, All India Radio. He also received fame all over the world after performing at the Edinburgh Music Festival.

-- On the occasion of India's first Republic Day on January 26, 1950, Khan performed Raga Kaifi from the Red Fort.
-- Khan has played shehnai is a few Hindi films, one of which is ‘Gunj Uthi Shehnai’. He has also played shehnai for the song Karedaru Kelade in the Kannada movie ‘Sanaadi Appanna’.
-- Since Bismillah Khan was a Shia Muslim by birth, where music is forbidden or considered 'haram', he started worshipping Goddess Saraswati just to adapt ‘the seven swaras as his namaaz’.

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first published:August 21, 2019, 10:10 IST
last updated:August 21, 2019, 10:10 IST