The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan Summary
About the Poet Ustaad Bismillah Khan
Ustad Qamruddin “Bismillah” 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. Bismillah accompanied his uncle to the Allahabad Music Conference. When Bismillah Khan was 14 years of age, he accompanied his maternal uncle, Ali Bux to the Allahabad Music Conference.
||Ustaad Bismillah Khan
||21 March 1916, Dumraon
||21 August 2006, Heritage Hospitals, Varanasi
||Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan
The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan Introduction
The lesson has been divided into two parts. Both are associated with the subject of music and the personalities who made music their life. Evelyn Glennie turned out to be the most sought after musician internationally in spite of her disability.
She was profoundly deaf but learnt to listen to music with her body instead of the ears. She became the perfect player of the xylophone and earned a huge name and fame. Bismillah Khan, on the other hand, became India’s most revered shehnai maestro.
He was the winner of Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of India. He performed not only in India but abroad too.
The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan Summary of the Lesson
This part of the lesson throws light on the origin of the shehnai and the contributions of Ustad Bismillah Khan to bring this musical instrument onto the classical stage.
Pungi, a musical instrument, was banned by Emperor Aurangzeb because of its unpleasant sound. It was improved by a barber of a family of professional musicians. The barber brought several changes in this instrument until it produced soft and melodious sounds. He then played it before royalty and got immense appreciation. Since it was first played in the Shah’s chambers by a nai, the instrument came to be known as the ‘shehnai’.
The sound of shehnai began to be considered auspicious. But its use was limited to temples and weddings. It was Bismillah Khan who popularised this instrument in India and abroad. Bismillah Khan belonged to the Benaras Gharana. He was born on 21 March 1916 at Dumraon in Bihar. His father, grandfather and other paternal ancestors were great shehnai players.
Bismillah Khan began to show his interest in music when he was just five-year-old. As a young child he would regularly go to the Bihariji temple to sing the Bhojpuri ‘Chaita’. He watched his maternal uncles practising the shehnai with great fascination. Slowly, he started getting lessons in playing the instrument and would sit practising throughout the day. He made the river Ganga his favourite spot to practise in solitude. At the age of 14, he accompanied his uncle to the Allahabad Music Conference where he got huge appreciation at the end of the recital. The opening of the All India Radio in Lucknow in 1938 proved to be a big break for him. His shehnai came to be heard very often on radio afterwards.
Bismillah Khan greeted the independent India with his shehnai from the Red Fort on 15 August, 1947. He travelled far and wide giving many memorable performances and won many national and international awards. He became the first Indian to perform at the prestigious Lincoln Centre Hall in the United States of America. He also took part in the World Exposition in Montreal, in the Cannes Art Festival and in the Osaka Trade Fair. The national awards conferred on him included the Padmashri, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan. In 2001, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna. India’s highest civilian award.
Bismillah Khan loved his country deeply. When he was in a foreign country, he kept yearning for India. He was very fond of Dumraon and Benaras. He could not stay away from Benaras because the river Ganga was there. He also got huge success in the celluloid world. He gave his music in two films. His composition ‘DU ka khilona hai toot gay a….,’ turned to be a nationwide record-breaker. But he could not come to terms with the artificial glamour of the film world and remained a true devotee of music throughout his life.