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Bismillah Khan

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Bismillah Khan was born on March 21, 1916 at Dumraon, Bihar. While named Amiruddin at birth his grandfather Rasool Baksh Khan exclaimed "Bismillah" and thereafter he came to be known by this name. His father was a court musician employed in the Dumrao palace by the Raja of Bhojpur. His great grandfather Ustad Salar Hussain Khan and grandfather Rasool Baksh Khan were also musicians in the Dumrao palace.

His ancestors were court musicians and used to play in Naqqar khana in the princely states of Bhojpur, now in Bihar. His father was a shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon Estate, Bihar.

At the age of six, he moved to Varanasi. He received his training under his uncle, the late Ali Baksh 'Vilayatu', a shehnai player attached to Varanasi's Vishwanath Temple.

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.


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Khan learnt the art of playing shehnai and mastered it in a short span of time. It is not farfetched to say that he was the one who made shehnai a famous classical instrument with his natural talent and great devotion. With his concert in All India Music Conference in 1937 (at Calcutta), Khan brought shehnai at the forefront of Indian classical music. He played so well that his name got attached to the instrument in no time. In 1947, on the occasion of India’s celebration of its first independence day, Khan was invited by the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to come and perform live at the Red Fort in Delhi. This performance became one of his most celebrated ones. He again performed in 1950 - this time on the occasion of India’s first Republic Day at Red Fort in Delhi.

Khan did not just perform for the Indian audience but on many occasions performed for the global audience as well. He took part in Cannes Art Festival, Osaka Trade Fair and World Exposition in Montreal. Khan had a deep association with the world of cinema as well. He played beautiful shehnai symphonies for a kannada language movie named Sadaadi Appanna. He also acted in a Satyajit Ray’s movie Jalsaghar in 1958.He did some other movies as well - Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959), Sange Meel Se Mulaqat, a documentary on his own life and also appeared in the capacity of a musician in Dustin Hoffman’s The Graduate (1967).


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Personal life

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).



On 17 August 2006, Bismillah Khan was taken ill and admitted to the Heritage Hospital, Varanasi for treatment. He died after four days on 21 August 2006 because of a cardiac arrest.

The Government of India declared a day of national mourning on his death. His body along with a Shehnai was buried at Fatemain burial ground of old Varanasi under a neem tree with 21-gun salute from Indian Army.



2001:- Tansen Award by Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

2001:- Bharat Ratna

1994:- Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi

1992:- Talar Mausiquee from Republic of Iran

1980:- Padma Vibhushan

1968:- Padma Bhushan

1961:- Padma Shri

1956:- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

1937:- Three medals in All India Music Conference, Calcutta

1930:- "Best Performer" in All India Music Conference, Allahabad


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