Biography of Bismillah Khan

Bismillah Khan

Bismillah Khan (21 March 1916 – 21 August 2006) was a renowned Indian shehnai player. He is well-known for popularizing the Shehnai. He was a well-famous Indian classical music artist. His name was completely linked with Shehani-The musical instrument,played in traditional ceremonies

Even shehnai had long held significance as a folk instrument, still the credit of popularity of this traditional instrument is given to Bismillah khan as he brought it to the concert stage.

Bismillah Khan was born in Dumraon, Bihar in a Muslim family. His father was a Shehnai player. Khan learned playing shehnai from his father and started playing at a very young age. He soon became a well-known and an accomplished artist.
He performed in India as well as abroad.

Bismillah received several awards and honours. He received the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honor by the Government of India.

In 2006, Bismillah Khan died at the age of 90.

Early life

Bismillah Khan was born in a traditional Muslim musician family on 21 March 1916 in Dumrao city of Bihar.

His father was Prophet Bux Khan and mother was Mithanbai. His father was a shehnai player(dumrao). His father used to play Shehnai in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of the princely state. His two grandfathers, Ustad Salar Hussain Khan and Rasool Bux Khan, were also musicians in the Dumrao palace.

At the time he born, He was named Qamaruddin to rhyme with Shamsuddin’s name. Shamsuddin was elder brother of bismillah khan.

His grandfather Rasool Bakhsh Khan who was also a Shehnai player, upon seeing the newborn, is said to have exclaimed “Bismillah”, or “In the name of Allah”, and Qamarudiin was thereafter known as Ustad Bismillah Khan.

Bismillah Khan moved to Varanasi at the age of 16 years to work as an apprentice to his maternal uncle Ali Kitabon ‘Vilayatu’ Khan, a shehnai player associated with the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Since childhood, Bismillah Khan was interested in music. So he started playing Shehnai at an early age. His father and maternal uncle were his first gurus. He learned playing Shehnai and became expert.
During his early life he put his efforts and dedication towards music. His both mentors knew about his hidden skills and talent. So they showed him the way to achieve the goal to become the master of Shehnai. He followed his gurus’ teachings and implemented them in his own style.

He laid the foundation of being a great Shehnai player and composer in his early life. He achieved various recognitions and became one of the best composers in India. He made Shehnai a popular musical instrument and became the world famous.


Bismillah Khan started learning Shehnai from his father and uncle Ali Baksh ‘Vilayati’. He mastered Shehnai at a very young age and started performing in various music festivals. Bismillah Khan moved to Banaras (Varanasi) at the age of 16 to further his education in the field of music. There he received classical music lessons from Ustad Ali Ahmed Khan and Ustad Allauddin Khan. He also learned various musical genres like Thumri, Chaiti, Kajri and Swani.

Career Life of Bismillah Khan

Bismillah Khan was a famous Shehnai player and is credited with popularizing the instrument. He played the Shehnai with such expressive talent that he became a leading artist of Indian classical music.

Bismillah Khan started his career by playing in many stage programs. He got his first big break in 1937 when he played in a concert at the All India Music Conference in Calcutta. After this performance, Shehnai became popular as an instrument and was highly appreciated by music lovers.

This first success of Bismillah served as a turning point in his career and after that there was no looking back. He performed in various countries like USA, Canada, Bangladesh, West Africa, Japan, Iran, Iraq and Hong Kong.

Awards and Recognitions

Bismillah Khan was awarded many awards and honors for his contribution to music. Following are some of the major awards and honors:

  • Bharat Ratna (2001)
  • Padma Vibhushan (1980)
  • Padma Bhushan (1968)
  • Padma Shri (1961)
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1956)
  • Tansen Award (1955)
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship (1994)
  • Tahar Music Award (1992)
  • T Chaudhary National Award (1995)
  • Swati Music Award (1998)

Bismillah Khan was invited by the Government of India to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1966. This invitation also made him famous in Western countries and he also performed several times in Europe and North America.

Bismillah Khan was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, in 2001. He was the third classical musician to be awarded the Bharat Ratna after M.S. Subbulakshmi and Ravi Shankar.

Bismillah Khan’s music was very popular and he was one of the most respected musicians of India. People still love his music and he will always be remembered for his art.

Death of Ustad Bismillah Khan

Shehnai emperor, Ustad Bismillah Khan died on August 21, 2006 in Varanasi. He was 90 years old. His death was a great loss to India, as he was one of the country’s most famous and respected musicians.

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