Ustad Bismillah Khan was one of the Benaras Gharana’s most famous representatives.
Born on March 21, 1916 Bismillah Khan belonged to a family of professional shahnai players. He learned the nuances of the shahnai with his maternal uncle Ali Bux and at the age of 14 he won his first award as the best performer at the All India Music Conference in Allahabad.
He had the distinction of performing as the Indian flag was unfurled at the historic Red Fort in Delhi to mark the country's independence from Britain in 1947.
A practising Muslim, he made the Hindu holy town of Varanasi (also known as Benares) his home and could often be seen playing by the banks of the holy river Ganges, offering prayers to the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati as well as he often played shehnai in the local temples.
He was seen as a symbol of India's religious pluralism and harmony for people of different faiths, and was awarded the country's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), in 2001.
Ustad Bismillah Khan died on August, 2006 due to a cardiac arrest and he was buried with full state honors in his home town of Varanasi before he was laid to rest under a neem tree in a burial ground in the old city where thousands paid their respects.
India's government declared a day of national mourning in his honor.
उस्ताद बिस्मिल्लाह खान भारतीय संगीत ही नहीं, समूचे कलासंसार में एक विलक्षण उपस्थिति रहे. अपने व्यक्तित्व और वाद्य दोनों से वे शास्त्रीय संगीत में एक नए ‘टाईप’ थे. अभिजन और जन के बीच; इनके परस्पर विरोध को अटल व अन्तिम मानने वाले आधुनिक पांडित्य को अंगूठा दिखाते. और यूँ भी उस्ताद अपने से बड़े हो गए थे.
Ustad Bismillah Khan has been a towering presence not only in Indian music, but in the art world as a whole. His personality and his choice of instrument were both something new in classical music. Situated between the classes and the masses; cocking a snook at the modern learning which considers the divide final and inviolate.
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