|Biographical detail : ||Shehnai maestro of south Asia.
The celebrated Ustad of the Indian sub-continent who lifted the shehnai, a unique instrument – from the Persian shah (king), and nai (flute) – from the dancing parlours to its rightful place in the music history – truly basassar (immaculate).
At an early age he gave an acclaimed recital at the All India Music Conference in Calcutta in 1937. Recognitions and laurels came fast and Bismillah Khan became the most prized artists at concerts as well as the broadcasting organisations and record industry in India and abroad. No wedding or any auspicious occasion, in the Indian sub-continent, is complete without the mellifluous and rich music of Ustad Bismillah Khan.
Ustad Bismillah Khan played for the film Goonj Uthi Shehnai that popularised the instrument like never before. He went on concert tours to London (1965), USA (1967), South America (973), France (1974) and Berlin (1977).
Adept in his phenomenal breath control, especially in the long sustained passages containing many small notes and an incredibly fast tempo, Bismillah Khan and his shehnai rang out with Nehru’s tryst with destiny speech on India’s independence day.
Despite his many awards – Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan, Padma Viibhushan, and Bharat Ratna, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Tansen Puraskar, the honorary doctoral degrees – despite the fact that he had, single-handedly, made the shehnai a concert instrument, he remained at heart a simple man.
Bismillah Khan was held up by many of his countrymen as an icon of the secular spirit for his open-mindedness on questions of religious affiliation and his Shehnai a favourite of nawabs and nationalists alike. He symbolised Hindu-Muslim unity in India.
Born in the princely state of Dumraon (now in Bihar) in a family of court musicians, Bismillah Khan who grew up in Benaras (now known as Varanasi), with his uncle and guru, was a simple man untouched by fame and still felt standing on the shores of the ocean of music. His life was bound up with the life of Benaras – and city would weep with his shehnai’s lament. He loved the city and, in turn, it loved him.
On his death, as a mark of respect, the central government of India declared one day’s national mourning and in his own state all government offices and schools were declared closed. He was given a state funeral.