Shreya Jain, Subject Matter Expert at Edumarz
In the chapter, we learned about Ustaad Bismillah Khan, a shehnai maestro, and how shehnai emerged as a musical instrument. Bismillah Khan made great contributions to the world of music through Shehnai. A Mughal emperor named Aurangzeb didn’t allow a musical instrument pungi to be played in his court because of its shrill and unpleasant sound. A barber belonging to a family of musicians thought of improving its sound. The barber brought a hollow stem, wider and longer than that of pungi, made seven holes on it, and closed and opened the holes simultaneously producing soft and melodious music. This instrument was made by a barber called ‘nai’ in Hindi and was firstly played at kings court called ‘Shah’, hence it was named as the shehnai. Earlier shehnai was just played in temples and at weddings. Later on, Ustad Bismillah Khan played it on stage.
Bismillah belonged to a family of renowned musicians. Paigambar Bux, his father, and paternal as well as maternal uncles all were shehnai players. During his childhood, Khan would visit the temple of Bihariji to chant the Bhojpuri chaita of which he was rewarded with a 1.25 kg ladoo by the local maharaja. He visited his maternal uncle, Ali Bauxat, Benaras at the age of three. He saw his uncle playing shehnai and was captivated by it. Bismillah Khan started learning shehnai at the age of five. Bismillah practiced at the temple of balaji, mangala maiya and the holy banks of ganga. The water of Ganga inspired him to invent new ragas which were considered beyond the range of shenai. During the age of fourteen, he performed at the music conference of Allahabad and was praised by
Ustaad Faiyaz Khan. In the year 1938, Air India Radio in Lucknow was opened giving Bismillah his biggest break. He soon had become the highest heard shehnai player on the radio. On 15th August 1947 the day of India’s independence, Khan was the first Indian to greet the country through his shehnai. He performed the Kafi rag followed by Pandit Nehru’s Tryst with destiny speech. He performed in several countries. His first foreign performance was in Afghanistan where the king liked his performance a lot and gave him Persian carpets and a lot of souvenirs. He also composed music for two movies. One was a Hindi film named- ‘Goonj uthi Shehnai’ directed by Vijay Bhatt and another one called- ‘ Sanadhi Apanna’’ by Vikram Srinivas. He was also the first Indian to perform at the Lincoln Centre Hall in the United States of America. He also performed at the Montreal, Cannes, and Tokyo festivals.An auditorium in Teheran –Tahar Mosiquee Ustaad Bismillah Khan was named after him.He was awarded awards like- Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Vibhushan, also the Bharat Ratna in the year 2001. He said that music is the highest heritage and had to be taught to the children. He was very attached to the countries of Dumraon and Benaras. A student once asked him to set up a shehnai school in the USA, promising him to create the same environment as Benaras. In return, Bismillah asked him whether he would also get the river Ganga there? Bismillah Khan is the best shehnai player.