Sound of Music Part II
The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan
The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan
· ‘The Sound of Music Part Two’ is devoted to Shehnai maestro, Ustad Bismillah Khan who gave a new life to shehnai and brought it to classical stage.
· The life story of Bismillah Khan is a true example of secular India. In spite of being a devout Muslim, he used to play shehnai and sing in temples. According to him music is above religious boundaries.
· Bismillah Khan devoted his life to music and shehnai and for the spread of India’s cultural heritage. He passed away in 2006. His life story is a great inspiration for music aspirants.
Summary / Synopsis
§ Emperor Aurangzeb banned ‘Pungi’ a musical instrument because of its unpleasant sound. A barber who was from a family of musicians decided to improve the tonal quality of pungi. Choosing a hollow pipe with a stem longer and broader than pungi he made seven holes on its body. When he played it in the court, soft and melodious sound was produced and every one was impressed. As it was first played by a ‘nai’ in king’s court, it was named ‘Shehnai’.
§ Shehnai was played during wedding and in temples as it was considered to be auspicious. The credit for bringing it to the classical stage goes to Ustaad Bismillah Khan.
§ Born in a well known family of great shehnai players, Bismillah took to music early in life. As a boy Bismillah used to sing in a local temple in Dumrao, Bihar, and would earn a big laddu. He accompanied his uncle, Ali Bux who used to play shehnai in Vishnu temple in Benaras.
§ Bismillah started practising shehnai at the banks of river Ganga for hours in solitude. The flowing waters of the Ganga inspired him to improvise and invent ragas that were considered to be beyond the range of shehnai.
§ At the age of 14, he accompanied his uncle to the Allahabad Music Conference. He got his big musical break when he was chosen to give first performance on the opening of All India Radio in Lucknow in 1938. He was the first Indian to play Raag Kaafi from Red Fort in Delhi on 15 August, 1947, first Independence Day.
§ His first trip abroad was to Afghanistan where King Zahir Shah gifted him priceless carpets and other souvenirs to acknowledge his mastery. He was the first Indian to perform at the Lincoln Hall, USA. He also perfomed in Montreal, Cannes Art Festival and Osaka Trade Fair. An auditorium inTehran was named after him. He composed music for two films, Gunj Uthi Shehnai being one of them.
§ National and international awards poured on him. Padma shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna was conferred on him. He wished Indian children to learn music as it is ‘Hindustan’s richest tradition’.
§ In spite of having travelled all over the world Bismillah Khan was exceedingly fond of Benaras and Dumraon. Whenever he was away from Benaras, he missed the river Ganga and when away from Dumraon, he missed its ‘mattha’.
§ Once, his student offered him to head a shehnai school in USA, he declined it saying that river Ganga can’t be transported, there.
The life story of Bismillah Khan is beautiful message of religious unity and communal harmony. This story highlights that by learning and pursuing music and other arts we may help keep India integrated and unified.
Important Question answers
Q1. Where was shehnai played traditionally? How did Bismillah Khan change this?
Ans. In India shehnai was traditionally played at the royal courts as a part of ‘naubat’ which was the traditional ensemble of nine instruments. Later, it was being played at weddings and in temples as it was considered to be auspicious.
We are indebted to Bismillah Khan that he brought shehnai to classical stage. He improvised and invented raagas which were earlier considered to be beyond the range of shehnai. He broke the myth of shehnai not being capable to create independent tunes. He played raag Kaafi on it from the Red Fort on first Independence Day.
Q2. Find at least two examples from the chapter that tell Bismillah Khan’s love for India and Benaras.
Ans. Bismillah Khan devoted his life to worship music and spread classical music and shehnai. He encouraged Indian parents to teach their children music which he considered to be India’s richest cultural heritage. Though being a devout Muslim he played shehnai and sang at temples. For him music and Indian cultural heritage is beyond religious boundaries. When he was asked why he did not go to Pakistan after partition, he told that he couldn’t imagine of living out of India and leaving Benaras.
He was not ready to leave Benaras at any cost. When his student offered him to head a shehnai school in USA, he declined it saying that river Ganga can’t be transported, there. Whenever he was away from Benaras, he missed the river Ganga and when away from Dumraon, he missed its ‘mattha’. He could practise shehnai at the banks of Ganga for hours in solitude. The flowing waters of Ganga inspired him to improvise and invent ragas to be played with shehnai.