Shehnai Maestro Bismillah Khan’s biography: Early life, career, achievements, legacy, and more

Originally known as Qamruddin Khan, Bismillah Khan was born on March 21, 1916 in Dumraon, Bihar and Orissa province, British India. He was a classical musician who played shehnai, an oboe-like North Indian ceremonial horn, with such expressive inventiveness that he became a leading Indian classical music artist. In this article, you will know about his early life, his education, his career, his awards and recognitions, and more. So without further ado, let’s get started.

The remarkable talent of a classical musician who developed a fondness for shehnai among music lovers, Ustad Bismillah Khan, can never be forgotten and will forever remain in the hearts of people. On his birth anniversary, MP Ravi Shankar Prasad took to Twitter to pay tribute to him.

My tribute to the great Indian master Shehnai “Bharat Ratna” Ustad Bismillah Khan Ji on his birthday.

—Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad)
March 21, 2015

Bismillah Khan Biography

Birth name

Qamaruddin Khan


March 21, 1916

place of birth

Dumraon, Shahabad district, Bihar and Orissa province, British India


August 21, 2006

place of death

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India






indian classical music

Bismillah Khan: early life

Born as the second son of Paigambar Khan and Mitthan, Bismillah Khan was previously called Qamaruddin so that his name would sound similar to his elder brother’s name, Shamsuddin. However, when his grandfather, Rasool Baksh Khan, hugged him when he was a baby, he uttered the word “Bismillah” and thus became known as Bismillah Khan.

Khan’s family ancestors were musicians in the court of the princely states of Bhojpur and his father was a Shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh. Bismillah Khan, who was born into a family of musicians, began developing a gift for music during her childhood. Growing up watching his father play shehnai, he decided to follow in his footsteps.

At the age of six, Bismillah began his journey to Varanasi, where he was trained by his uncle, Ali Baksh, who used to play shehnai in temples and many ceremonies for Hindu deities, as well as at weddings. He learned shehnai by accompanying his uncle to the ceremonies. As he began to develop his fondness for the instrument, he practiced numerous musical forms and ragas that helped him discover considerable patterns in shehnai that other musicians considered impossible.

Bismillah Khan: career

Bismillah Khan began her career by playing in numerous theater shows. He got his first big break in 1937 when he played a concert at the All India Music Conference in Calcutta. After this performance, Shenani became popular as an instrument and was highly appreciated by music lovers. Bismillah’s first breakup was a turning point in his career, as there was no turning back after this. He then performed in different countries such as the United States, Canada, Bangladesh, West Africa, Japan, Iran, Iraq and Hong Kong.

The honor of playing on the eve of Indian independence

Bismillah Khan was given the rare honor of playing shehnai at the Red Fort in Delhi on the occasion of India’s independence eve in 1947. His performance was considered the main attraction of the Independence Day celebrations and reached thousands of homes. when it was broadcast live on Doordarshan.

Bismillah Khan: personal and family life

Khan is known for leading a simple lifestyle. He traveled to places by bicycle and rickshaw and ate simple food. Belonging to a joint family, he treated each member with love and respect. Although he had five biological sons, he also adopted a daughter.

Bismillah Khan: Film Performances



Goonj Uthi Shehnai

This Hindi film included a shehnai recital by Bismillah Khan.

Sanaadi Appana

In 1977, Khan traveled from Varanasi to Chennai to work on a Kannada film titled ‘Sanaadi Appanna’.

Sange Meel Se Mulaqat

This is a documentary on the life of Ustad Bismillah Khan, where he shared his journey to becoming one of the greatest classical musicians of India.

Bismillah Khan: awards and recognitions




Sangeet Natak Akademi Award from the Indian National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama


Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award


Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in the country


Talar Mausiquee of the Republic of Iran


Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award

Bismillah Khan: a living example of religious harmony

Although Khan was a Shia Muslim, he worshiped the goddess Saraswati and performed in Hindu and Muslim ceremonies. There is also a story narrating Khan’s interaction with Lord Krishna himself. He begins on his train journey from Jamshedpur to Varanasi, where he was to perform at a religious concert. During his journey, he met a dark-skinned young man holding a flute in his hand. The boy was playing the ‘raaga’ which Ustad could not recognize. He asked the boy to play the same melody repeatedly.

After reaching Varanasi, Bismillah Khan is said to have played the same tune, which he had learned from the young and mysterious boy he met on his journey. When contemporary musicians asked him about the new ‘raaga’, he found that he told them that the raaga he played was called ‘Kanhaira’.

Bismillah Khan: Legacy

Ustad Bismillah Khan was one of the most legendary classical musicians who popularized shehnai in Indian classical music. He invented new raagas and patterns that had a significant impact on musicians. Although he did not accept many students as disciples who could have carried on his legacy, he had such a lasting impact on music that he became unforgettable.

In his honour, Sangeet Natak Akademi created a new award called ‘Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar’ which is awarded to young performers who bring a new perspective to the field of music, dance and theatre.

Categories: Optical Illusion

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