Regarded as one of the best classical musicians India has ever produced, Ustad Bismillah Khan’s name is synonymous with the shehnai in India. This great musician was born on March 21, 1916 at Dumraon in Bihar. He traced his lineage to an illustrious lineage of court musicians in the princely state of Dumraon in Bihar. He trained under the tutelage of his uncle, the late Ali Bux `Vilayatu’, a reputed shehnai player in his own right.
He is credited with single-handedly bringing about a change in the importance given to the Shehnai in Indian classical music. In one of his landmark performances, he played at the Red Fort in Delhi on the occasion of India’s Independence on August 15, 1947. He also performed on the occasion of India’s first Republic Day on January 26, 1950.
He enthralled audiences all over the world with his performances. He was a worshipper of both Allah and Saraswati. The city of Varanasi and the river Ganga were two major influences in his life. He was bestowed with many awards and accolades during his lifetime. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1956, the Padma Shri in 1961, the Padma Bhushan in 1968 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1980.
In 2001, this doyen of India’s classical music was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. Ustad Khan played the shehnai for Dr.Rajkumar’s character of Appanna in the movie Sanaadi Appanna. Besides, he acted in a movie by Satyajit Ray, Jalsaghar and played the shehnai in Goonj Uthi Shehnai. He passed away on August 21, 2006. The Union government declared a one-day national mourning on his death.