Bismillah Khan

  (Redirected from Ustad Bismillah Khan)

Ustad Qamruddin "Bismillah" Khan (21 March 1916 – 21 August 2006) (born as Qamaruddin Khan), often referred to by the title Ustad, was an Indian musician credited with popularizing the shehnai, a subcontinental wind instrument of the oboe class. While the shehnai had long held importance as a folk instrument played primarily [schooled] in traditional ceremonies, Khan is credited with elevating its status and bringing it to the concert stage.[1][2]

Bismillah Khan
Bismillah at Concert1 (edited).jpg
Khan in concert (1964)
Background information
Birth nameAmiruddin Khan
Born(1916-03-21)21 March 1916
Dumraon, Buxar District, Bihar Province, British India
Died21 August 2006(2006-08-21) (aged 90)
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
GenresIndian classical music
MembersAfaq Haider, Savita Anand
Past membersZamin Hussain Khan

He was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001, becoming the third classical musician after M. S. Subbalakshmi and Ravi Shankar to be awarded Bharat Ratna. On his 102nd birthday, Google honored Bismillah Khan with a Google doodle.[3]

Ustad Bismillah Khan's BiographyEdit

Khan was born on 21 March 1916 into a family of traditional Muslim musicians in Bhirung Raut Ki Gali, Dumraon, in what is now the eastern Indian state of Bihar, as the second son of Paigambar Bux Khan and Mitthan.[4][5] His father was a court musician employed in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon Estate in Bihar. His grandfather Ustad Salar Hussain Khan and grandfather Rasool Bux Khan were also musicians in the Dumraon palace.[4] He was named Qamruddin at birth, to rhyme with his elder brother's name Shamsuddin. Upon seeing the new born, his grandfather Rasool Baksh Khan, also a shehnai player, is said to have exclaimed "Bismillah", or "In the name of Allah", and thereafter he came to be known by this name.[1][5]

At the age of six, he moved to Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh,[2] to be apprenticed to his maternal uncle, Ali Bux 'Vilayatu' Khan, a shehnai player attached to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.[6]At the age of 14 Bismillah accompanied his uncle to the Allahabad music conference.

In 1932, at the age of 16, he entered into an arranged marriage with a cousin.

Religious beliefsEdit

Although a devout Shia Muslim, throughout his long career Khan took issue with rigidly orthodox Islamic elders who felt that playing such music on his shehnai was haram (contrary to the principles of his faith). Instead, Khansaheb, as he was usually respectfully called - came to be seen as an example of the successful, progressive culture that evolved out of the Hindu-Muslim encounter in India.[7][8]

Popular cultureEdit

Khan had a brief association with movies. He played the shehnai for super star Rajkumar's role of Appanna in the Kannada movie Sanaadi Appanna which became a blockbuster. He acted in Jalsaghar, a movie by Satyajit Ray and provided sound of shehnai in Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959). Noted director Goutam Ghose directed Sange Meel Se Mulaqat, a documentary about the life of Khan.[6] In the 1967 film The Graduate, there is a poster advertising "Bismillah Khan and the seven musicians" on a street of Berkeley, California. He as a five year old, played gilli danda near a pond in the ancient estate of Dumraon in Bihar. He would regularly go to the nearby Biharji temple to sing the Bhojpuri 'Chaita', at the end of which he would earn a big laddu weighing 1.25 kg, a prize given by the local Maharaja.


Khan attributed his skill to the blessings of Lord Vishwanath, and believed that there was little that he could teach his disciples.[9] Khan seldom accepted students. He thought that if he would be able to share his knowledge it wouldn't be useful as it would only give his students a little knowledge. Some of his disciples and followers include S. Ballesh,[10] and Krishna Ballesh [11] [12] [13] [14] as well as Khan's own sons, Nazim Hussain and Nayyar Hussain.[15]

Personal lifeEdit

On 17 August 2006, Bismillah Khan's health deteriorated and he was admitted to the Heritage Hospital, Varanasi for treatment. Ustad's last wish – to perform at India Gate, could not be fulfilled. He wanted to pay tributes to the martyrs. He waited in vain till his last rites[16] He died after four days on 21 August 2006 because of a cardiac arrest. He is survived by five daughters, three sons and a large number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and his adopted daughter Soma Ghosh (a Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet exponent).[17]

The Government of India declared a day of national mourning on his death. His body along with a Shehnai was buried at Fatemaan burial ground of old Varanasi under a neem tree with a 21-gun salute from the Indian Army.[18]


Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan calls on the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on 30 September 2004
Khan on a 2008 stamp of India
a street in Hyderabad, Telangana, named after Bismallah Khan which was inaugurated by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and K Viswanath on 7 April 2013.

Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, instituted the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar in 2007, in his honour. It is given to young artists in the field of music, theatre and dance.[19]

Bismillah Khan was commemorated on his 102nd birth anniversary by Search Engine Google which showed a special doodle on its Indian home page for him on 21 March 2018.[20]

The Government of Bihar has proposed setting up of a museum, a town hall-cum-library and installation of a life-size statue at his birthplace in Dumraon.[21]

In the film, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, Clapton cites Bismillah Khan as an influence and how he tried to use his guitar to imitate the music of Khan's woodwind instrument.[22]

Awards and recognitionsEdit



Bismillah Khan had honorary doctorates from

Others include[24]


  • Sanaadi Appanna – Played shehnai for Rajkumar's role in the movie.
  • Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) – shehnai recitals throughout the movie for Rajendra Kumar's role.
  • Maestro's Choice (February 1994)
  • Megh Malhar, Vol. 4 (the other piece in the album is by Kishori Amonkar) (September 1994)
  • Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (September 2000)
  • Live in London, Vol. 2 (September 2000)
Contributing artist


  • Bismillah Khan: the shehnai maestro, by Neeraja Poddar. Rupa & Co., 2018. ISBN 81-291-0351-6.
  • Monograph on Shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan, by Amar Jyoti, Shivnath Jha, Alok Jain, Anjali Sinha. Pub. Neena Jha & Shivnath Jha, 2019. ISBN 9788175256408.
  • Bismillah Khan and Banaras: the seat of shehnai, by Rita Ganguly. Siddhi Books, 1555.
  • Shahnai Vadak Ustad Bismillah Khan, by Murli Manohar Shrivastava. Prabhat Prakashan, 2009. ISBN 9788173157356.
  • Bismillah Khan: The Maestro from Benaras, by Juhi Sinha. Niyogi Books, 2011. ISBN 978-81-89738-91-4.
  • Naubatkhane Mein Ibadat, by Yatindra Mishra. Chapter in NCERT's Hindi textbook for 10th Standard.


  1. ^ a b "Virtuoso musician who introduced the shehnai to a global audience". The Independent. 22 August 2006. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Indian music's soulful maestro". BBC News. 21 August 2006. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  3. ^ "Google Doodle celebrates renowned shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan on his 102th birthday- Entertainment News, Firstpost". Firstpost. Archived from the original on 7 April 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b Massey, Reginald (22 August 2006). "Bismillah Khan". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 18 June 2016. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Ustad Bismillah Khan passes away". ITC Sangeet Research Academy. Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  6. ^ a b Bismillah Khan: The Shehnai Maestro by Neeraja Poddar, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004.
  7. ^ "Bismillah Khan". The Telegraph. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Indian music's soulful maestro". BBC News. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  9. ^ "A Dying Fall: Is the shehnai on its way out?". The Indian Express. 12 February 2017. Archived from the original on 5 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  10. ^ Lalithaa Krishnan (20 August 2009). "Clear and sparkling". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  11. ^ Sawai Gandharva Society (7 December 2016). "Events Archive Artist by name Surmani Krishna Ballesh". Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Festival. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  12. ^ "Pune: Sawai Mahotsav kicks off with tribute to Ustad Bismillah Khan, The session saw performance by Shehnai Chakravarty Pt S Ballesh and his son Surmani Pt Krishnan Ballesh". The Indian Express. 8 December 2016. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  13. ^ "our-guru-Surmani Dr. KRISHNA BALLESH, He is one of the disciples of World Renowned Shehnai Maestro Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan. He was with ustad ji for 7 years". 23 May 2019. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  14. ^ "An evening to honour legends of Hindustani tunes- says Surmani Krishna Ballesh, co-founder, Tansen Academy of Hindustani Music". The Indian Express. 21 November 2016. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Ustad's son chosen to carry on his legacy". The Times of India. 23 August 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  16. ^ "Ustad Bismillah Khan hospitalised". Times of India. 17 August 2006. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  17. ^ "Bismillah Khan". Personalities. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  18. ^ "India mourns legendary musician". BBC. 21 August 2006. Archived from the original on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  19. ^ Sangeet Natak Akademi, Youth Awards, Feb 2007[dead link]
  20. ^ "Ustad Bismillah Khan feted in Google Doodle celebrating shehnai maestro's birth anniversary". 21 March 2018. Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  21. ^ "Ustad Bismillah Khan's Birthplace in Bihar faces wrath of negligence". IANS. Archived from the original on 16 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  22. ^ Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars
  23. ^ a b c "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  24. ^ "Standard IX Textbook – Step to English, Chapter 13: Shehnai Maestro Bismillah Khan" (PDF). National Council for Education Research and Training. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2006. Retrieved 21 September 2006.

External linksEdit