Bismillah Khan (Hindi: [bɪsmɪlːɑː xɑːn];born Qamaruddin Khan, 21 March 1914 – 21 August 2006), often referred to by the title Ustad, was an Indian musician credited with popularizing the shehnai, a reededwoodwind instrument. 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.
Bismillah Khan was born on 21 March 1914 into a family of traditional Muslim musicians at the town of DumraonBritish India, as the second son of Paigambar Bux Khan and Mitthanbai. His father was a court musician employed in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon Estate in Bihar. His two grandfathers Ustad Salar Hussain Khan and Rasool Bux Khan were also musicians in the Dumraon palace. 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.
At the age of six, he moved to Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, to be apprenticed to his maternal uncle, Ali Bux 'Vilayatu' Khan, a shehnai player attached to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. 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.
Khan attributed his skill to the blessings of Vishwanath (Shiva), and believed that there was little that he could teach his disciples. 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, and Krishna Ballesh. as well as Khan's own sons, Nazim Hussain and Nayyar Hussain.
On 17 August 2006, Bismillah Khan's health deteriorated and he was admitted to the Heritage Hospital, Varanasi for treatment. Khan'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. He died of cardiac arrest on 21 August 2006.
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.
Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan calls on the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on 30 September 2004
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. 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.
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.
In the documentary 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.
In the NCERT English Textbook for 9th Grade he is credited largely in the chapter "The Sound Of Music".
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Life history of Bismillah Khan, the Legend of Varanasi