Ustad Bismillah Khan

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

A profile

The Hindu, March 21, 2016

Ustad Bismillah Khan: The king of shehnai

Narendra Kusnur

His eyes sparkled like diamonds, blending playfulness and childlike innocence. His words were pearls of wisdom, whether he talked seriously about music or indulged in jovial banter. His heart was pure gold, and his shehnai tone richer than the biggest jewellery chains.

The late Ustad Bismillah Khan was a true gem. A Bharat Ratna in every sense.

In his biography, Murli Manohar Shrivastava mentions he was born in 1916.

Bismillah Khan deserved much more. He had the privilege of playing live at New Delhi’s Red Fort on the eve of India’s Independence Day and Republic Day. It was former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s decision to have his recital telecast on Doordarshan every year on August 15.


Much is known about his contribution to elevating the shehnai in classical music, or about his collaborations with sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, and violinists VG Jog, N Rajam and L Subramaniam? A lot has been written about his devotion to goddess Saraswati, and how his music is played at weddings and temples. Let’s talk about the man himself.

I was lucky to meet him thrice. The first time, in the late 1990s, he was to play with Vilayat Khan at the Brabourne Stadium. A 15-minute interview was fixed an hour before the concert. Many people tried distracting him. With his famous smile, he said: “It’s your problem if you fixed this now when I was free all morning. If you disturb me once more, I may get a bad review.”

He hummed semi-classical forms like thumri, chaiti, kajri and hori. He was also critical of many things in the music world, but used words in such a way one would believe he was actually praising his targets.

Khan- saab had his own approach. Within India, he travelled by train with his group. He explains: “On a flight, I would often sit next to some rich person who wouldn’t recognise me. He would get irritated if I hummed something, and I couldn’t speak his kind of English.”

Shehnais, stolen

The Hindu, December 5, 2016

Bismillah Khan's shehnais stolen from son's home in Varanasi

Omar Rashid

Five shehnais belonging to late musician and Bharat Ratna awardee Ustad Bismillah Khan have been stolen from his son’s house in Varanasi.

Along with the five shehnais — four made of silver and the fifth a mix of silver and wood — a silver plate of the Inayat Khan award won by the maestro and two gold bangles have also gone missing from the house in the Dalmandi area of the temple city in Uttar Pradesh.

The family of the maestro had recently shifted from their ancestral house in the Sarai Harha area to a new location in Dalmandi. On November 30, the family visited their ancestral house for a few days and when they returned to their new house on Sunday night they found the lock broken and the items missing.

An FIR was registered at the Chowk police station against unknown persons, Senior Superintendent of Police (Varanasi) Nitin Tiwari informed. “The items have not been recovered. Investigations are on,” Mr. Tiwari said.

Circle Officer Dashashwamedh is probing the case and on Monday evening personnel of the Special Task Force (STF) also visited the house belonging to Bismillah Khan’s son Kazim Hassan. The shehnai legend’s family is saddened by the theft of the “invaluable items.”

Razi Hassan, Bismillah Khan’s grandson, said the shehnais held a “special meaning” for the family. The four silver shehnais were gifted to Bismillah Khan by former Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao, Congress leader Kapil Sibal, former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and Shailesh Bhagwat, a fan from Mumbai, respectively.

The family says it is most upset by the theft of the fifth shehnai, made of silver and wood. “The four silver shehnais were gifts. But the wood and silver one was his legacy, his heritage. He would play that during the Muharram procession every year. We are really saddened that dadaji is no more and his things are also lost,” Mr. Hassan told The Hindu.

The incident has strengthened the family’s long-held demand for a museum to preserve the maestro’s instruments, awards and other memorabilia. It is not the first time his shehnais have been stolen.

“We have been demanding that a museum come up. There are still many awards of his in the house. We still hope that if our demand is fulfilled the remaining items can be safeguarded at least,” Mr. Hassan said.

Known for popularizing the shehnai, a wooden instrument usually played in traditional functions and processions in India, Bismillah Khan died in 2006. He would have turned 100 this year.

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