Bismillah Khan

Last updated

Bismillah Khan
Bismillah at Concert1 (edited).jpg
Khan at a music concert (1964)
Background information
Birth nameQamruddin Khan
Born(1916-03-21)21 March 1916
Dumraon, Shahabad district, Bihar and Orissa Province, British India
Died21 August 2006(2006-08-21) (aged 90)
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
Genres Indian classical music
Instruments Shehnai
MembersAfaq Haider, Savita Anand, Ajitesh Singh
Past membersZamin Hussain Khan

Ustad Bismillah Khan (born Qamaruddin Khan, 21 March 1916 – 21 August 2006), often referred to by the title Ustad, was an Indian musician credited with popularizing the shehnai, a reeded woodwind 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. [1] [2]


He was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001, becoming the third classical musician after M. S. Subbalakshmi and Ravi Shankar to be awarded Bharat Ratna.

Personal life

Bismillah Khan was born on 21 March 1916 into a family of traditional Muslim musicians at the town of Dumraon, in Shahabad district of Bihar and Orissa Province in British India, as the second son of Paigambar Bux Khan and Mitthanbai. [3] [4] 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. [3] 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. [1] [4]

At the age of six, he moved to Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, [2] to be apprenticed to his maternal uncle, Ali Bux 'Vilayatu' Khan, a shehnai player attached to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. [5] 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 Lord Vishwanath, and believed that there was little that he could teach his disciples. [6] 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, [7] and Krishna Ballesh. [8] [9] [10] [11] as well as Khan's own sons, Nazim Hussain and Nayyar Hussain. [12]


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 after four days on 21 August 2006 because of a cardiac arrest. He is survived by five daughters, three sons and a large number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and his adopted daughter Soma Ghosh (a Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet exponent) and his disciples S.Ballesh and Krishna Ballesh (Shehnai players). [13]

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. [14]


Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan calls on the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on 30 September 2004 Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan calls on the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on September 30, 2004.jpg
Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan calls on the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on 30 September 2004
Khan on a 2008 stamp of India Bismillah Khan 2008 stamp of India.jpg
Khan on a 2008 stamp of India
Street in Hyderabad, Telangana, named after Bismallah Khan which was inaugurated by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and K Viswanath on 7 April 2013. Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan Marg.jpg
Street in Hyderabad, Telangana, named after Bismallah Khan which was inaugurated by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and K Viswanath on 7 April 2013.

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. [15]

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. [16]

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. [17]

Khan had a brief association with films in India. He played the shehnai for Rajkumar's role of Appanna in the Vijay's Kannada-language film Sanaadi Appanna which became a blockbuster. He acted in Jalsaghar by Satyajit Ray and provided sound of shehnai in Vijay Bhatt's Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959).

Noted director Goutam Ghose directed Sange Meel Se Mulaqat (1989), an Indian documentary film about the life of Khan. [5]

Awards and recognitions



Bismillah Khan had honorary doctorates from:

Others include [21]

Selective discography

Contributing artist


Related Research Articles


The shehnai is a musical instrument, originating from the Indian subcontinent. It is made out of wood, with a double reed at one end and a metal or wooden flared bell at the other end. Its sound is thought to create and maintain a sense of auspiciousness and sanctity and as a result, is widely used during marriages, processions and in temples although it is also played in concerts. It was a part of the Naubat or traditional ensemble of nine instruments found in the royal court. The shehnai is similar to South India's nadaswaram.

Amjad Ali Khan Indian musician

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is an Indian classical sarod player, best known for his clear and fast ekhara taans. Khan was born into a classical musical family and has performed internationally since the 1960s. He was awarded India's second highest civilian honour Padma Vibhushan in 2001.

Rashid Khan (musician) Indian classical musician

Ustad Rashid Khan is an Indian classical musician in the Hindustani music tradition. He belongs to the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana, and is the great-grandson of gharana founder Inayat Hussain Khan. He is married to Soma Khan.

Dumraon City in Buxar, India

Dumraon is a nagar parishad city and corresponding community development block in Buxar district in the Indian state of Bihar. Dumraon is one of Bihar's oldest municipalities and one of India's oldest princely states also known as Dumraon Raj. It is located 1.5 km south of National Highway (NH) 84, 20 kilometres (12 mi)north from NH-30 (Patna-Ara-Mohania) and 80 kilometres (50 mi) from NH-2. It is known for its Sinhora. Sights include Jangali Shiv ka Mandir, Bihariji Ka Mandir, Dumrejani mai ka Mandir, Maa Dakshini bhavani ji ka Mandir and Kaliji Ka Mandir. The famous villages near by Dumraon are Amsari, Baisegaon (Fafadar), Kanjharua, Kopwaon, Koran Sarai, Nandan, Chaugain, Simari, Ariaon & Sowan.udianganj chhatanawar '

Vishnu Govind Jog, better known as V. G. Jog, was an Indian violinist. He was the foremost exponent of the violin in the Hindustani music tradition in the 20th century, and is credited for introducing this instrument into Hindustani music.

Sabri Khan Musical artist

Ustad Sabri Khan was an Indian sarangi player, who was descended on both sides of his family from a line of distinguished musicians.

<i>Goonj Uthi Shehnai</i> 1959 Indian film directed by Vijay Bhatt

Goonj Uthi Shehnai is a 1959 Hindi film directed by Vijay Bhatt, with Rajendra Kumar, Ameeta, Anita Guha and I. S. Johar as leads. The film has music by Vasant Desai and lyrics by Bharat Vyas, and the duo created numerous hits such as "Jivan Men Piya Tera Sath Rahe" sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi, and Lata's "Tere Sur Aur Mere Geet" and "Dil Ka Khilona Hai Toot Gaya".

Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan Musical artist

Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan was an Indian sitar player. Khan received the national awards Padma Shri (1970) and Padma Bhushan (2006) and was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 1987.

Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar was an exponent of Dagar vani Dhrupad of Indian classical music. He represented the 19th generation of Dagar Tradition. His cousins Nasir Moinuddin Dagar and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar were known as the Senior Dagar Brothers. Similarly, Nasir Zahiruddin and Nasir Faiyazuddin Dagar were known as the Junior Dagar Brothers. His other cousins were Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, Fariduddin Dagar, and H. Sayeeduddin Dagar.

Rajendra Prasanna Musical artist

Rajendra Prasanna, born 15 April 1956 is an Indian classical flautist and shehnai player from Benares Gharana.

Music in Varanasi

Music in Varanasi is a tradition linked to the ancient times of the Pauranic legends. Lord Shiva, who is reported to have established this city, was credited with developing music and dance forms. Legend also attributes that Renu, son of sage Vishvamitra and Mahagobind, was the precursors of music tradition in Kashi (Varanasi) when nymphs (Apsaras), Gandharvas and Kinnaras were the traditional practitioners of this art form, and saint Chaitanya and Vallabhacharya were the pioneers in spreading this music tradition in Varanasi. Notable musicians of Varanasi include the iconic sitar player Ravi Shankar, the Shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan, Sarod maestro vikash Maharaj and singer Girija Devi. Varanasi has joined the global bandwagon of UNESCO "Cities of Music" under the Creative Cities Network. Varanasi chosen in music category of creative cities network clearly signifies the rich musical heritage of this ancient city.

Ashutosh Bhattacharya was a noted Indian classical musician of Hindustani classical music from Varanasi, who was Tabla player and music educator, besides a practicing Ayurvedic doctor.

Anant Lal, often referred to by the title Pandit, was an Indian classical musician who played the shehnai. He worked for All India Radio and played with artists such as Ravi Shankar and Debu Chaudhuri in addition to recording under his own name. Lal was one of the leading exponents of the shehnai in Hindustani classical music. In 1989, he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest recognition afforded artists in India.

S. Ballesh Musical artist

Pandit S. Ballesh is an Indian shehnai player.

Nazim Hussain Musical artist

Ustad Nazim Hussain is an Indian tabla player and popularly known as Ustad Nazim Hussain Bismillah Khan and also called as Nazim Bhai. He is the youngest son of shehnai master Ustad Bismillah Khan, whom he accompanied as well.

<i>Sanaadi Appanna</i> 1977 Indian film

Sanaadi Appanna is a 1977 Indian Kannada-language musical film directed by Vijay based on the novel Kuniyitu Hejje Naliyithu Gejje by Krishnamoorthy Puranik which was loosely based on the life of Bagalkot shehnai player Appanna (1876-1945). It starred Rajkumar in title role with Jaya Prada in the lead role along with Ashok, Balakrishna, R. Sampath, Thoogudeepa Srinivas, Papamma and Baby Madhavi in supporting roles. Puneeth Rajkumar made a brief appearance in one of the songs of this film.

Meeta Pandit Musical artist

Dr. Meeta Pandit is a Hindustani Classical vocalist and a leading exponent of the Gwalior Gharana. She is the granddaughter and disciple of Krishnarao Shankar Pandit and daughter of Laxman Krishnarao Pandit. She is the sixth in the unbroken lineage and the first woman in the family to have taken up music as a profession.

Mushtaq Hussain Khan Indian Hindustani classical vocalist

Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan (1878–1964) was an Indian classical vocalist. He belonged to the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana.

Dinesh Kumar Prabhakar Musical artist

Dinesh Kumar Prabhakar is a violinist, composer, conductor and vocalist in Indian Classical Music. He has been behind many pieces of Indian music in the classical, national and religious genres. He has also composed and directed pop music.

Lokesh Anand Indian Shehnai Player (born 1978)

Lokesh Anand is an Indian Shehnai Player. Lokesh has been learning under Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj, Hence belongs to Mewati Gharana. He is empanelled with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The key characteristics of Anand's Shehnai playing are neat fingering techniques, command over tempo along with richness and clarity in sound. Lokesh performs solo and in duet and also does fusion.


  1. 1 2 "Virtuoso musician who introduced the shehnai to a global audience". The Independent . 22 August 2006. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Indian music's soulful maestro". BBC News . 21 August 2006. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  3. 1 2 Massey, Reginald (22 August 2006). "Bismillah Khan". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 18 June 2016. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Ustad Bismillah Khan passes away". ITC Sangeet Research Academy. Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  5. 1 2 Bismillah Khan: The Shehnai Maestro by Neeraja Poddar, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004.
  6. "A Dying Fall: Is the shehnai on its way out?". The Indian Express. 12 February 2017. Archived from the original on 5 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  7. Lalithaa Krishnan (20 August 2009). "Clear and sparkling". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  8. Sawai Gandharva Society (7 December 2016). "Events Archive Artist by name Surmani Krishna Ballesh". Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Festival . Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  9. "Pune: Sawai Mahotsav kicks off with tribute to Ustad Bismillah Khan, The session saw performance by Shehnai Chakravarty Pt S Ballesh and his son Surmani Pt Krishnan Ballesh". The Indian Express . 8 December 2016. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  10. "our-guru-Surmani Dr. KRISHNA BALLESH, He is one of the disciples of World Renowned Shehnai Maestro Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan. He was with ustad ji for 7 years". 23 May 2019. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  11. "An evening to honour legends of Hindustani tunes- says Surmani Krishna Ballesh, co-founder, Tansen Academy of Hindustani Music". The Indian Express . 21 November 2016. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  12. "Ustad's son chosen to carry on his legacy". The Times of India . 23 August 2006. Archived from the original on 11 January 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  13. "Bismillah Khan". Personalities. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  14. "India mourns legendary musician". BBC News. 21 August 2006. Archived from the original on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  15. "Ustad Bismillah Khan's Birthplace in Bihar faces wrath of negligence". IANS. Archived from the original on 16 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  16. "Ustad Bismillah Khan feted in Google Doodle celebrating shehnai maestro's birth anniversary". 21 March 2018. Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  17. Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars
  18. (4 December 1998). "National Events in 1998". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  19. "List of recipients of 'T Chaudaiah National Awards'-" . Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  20. 1 2 3 "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  21. "Standard IX Textbook – Step to English, Chapter 13: Shehnai Maestro Bismillah Khan" (PDF). National Council for Education Research and Training. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2006. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  22. "Google Doodle celebrates renowned shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan on his 102th birthday- Entertainment News, Firstpost". Firstpost. Archived from the original on 7 April 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2018.