Remembering Ustad Bismillah Khan on his death anniversary

Today is the 13th death anniversary of Ustad Bismillah Khan the Shehnai maestro who won several accolades from the Government of India and others.

Born on 21st March 1916 as Qamruddin Khan, in Dumraon, Bihar, at the age of 6 moved to Varnasi to learn to play Shehnai under his maternal uncle, Ali Baksh ‘Vilayatu’ Khan, who played Shehani at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

Bismillah Khan brought the Shehnai to the center stage of concerts. He played the Shehnai on the eve of India’s first Independence in 1947 at the Red Fort, Delhi.

Ustad Bismillah Khan also stood for communal harmony and he attributed his skill as blessings of Lord Vishwanath.  He also played background score for some movies. Sannadi Appanna – a Kannada movie where he played the Shehnai for the character Apanna played by Rajkumar was a blockbuster hit in 1977.

Bismillah Khan is the recipient of the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna along with Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Tansen award and others.

He was also honoured with doctorates from Banaras Hindu University and Visva Bharti University.A postage stamp in his name was also released by the former Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Khan died on August 21, 2006 due to cardiac arrest. His last wish to play the shenai at the India Gate for the Martyrs of India remained unfulfilled. has published some interesting stories on the Ustad:

The government of Bihar promised to set up a varsity in the name of Bismillah Khan, a few politicians had promised to  develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace in Buxur Lok Sabha constituency, some 130 km from Patna, but beyond tokenism, there has been nothing concrete on the ground. Read the account here: Bismillah’s crumbling birthplace: Testimony to broken promises in Bihar.

However the school text books carried something about Bismillah Khan’s life and achievement in the schools books which has been covered here: Art and life of Bismillah Khan in school texts.

In 2016, his foster daughter Shoma Ghosh set upon an uphill task to preserve the rich heritage of not just Bismillah Khan but also that of other musical legends by starting ‘Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan Academy’, in Varanasi. Read about her efforts here: In centenary year, an academy to honour Bismillah Khan.

But the promises made the by the political leaders were not kept and his large family many of whom still play the Shehnai have slipped in the oblivion with hardly anyone paying a visit or inviting them for concerts to play the Shehnai. Even his awards and certificates are decaying on the walls telling a sad tale.

Awards ruined by termites, house in disarray and a museum yet to take shape: The sad legacy of Ustad Bismillah Khan. This story delves in the house of the legend where the family is living in a neglected state.

Courtesy: Two Circle



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