Summary and Explanation of The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan-The Sound of Music-II (Character Sketch and Quick Revision Notes)

Character Sketch of Ustad Bismillah Khan

Ustad Bismillah Khan was a Shehnai master of great national and international fame. He was a great musician. Ali Bux, his maternal unde perfected him in music. Shehnai was brought to the classical stage by Ustad Bismillah Khan. He practiced for hours and worked very hard to attain perfection. It was his melodious music that made him the first Indian to greet tire independent India. Ustad Bismillah Khan created many new rags. He was given many awards and he even received the “Bharat Ratna”. He was a true patriot who declined many offers to settle aborad. He was a true artist but a simple man. He had great regard for Hindustani Classical Music.

Summary of the The Sound of Music II

This chapter throws light on the origin of Shehnai and the life of all-time great Shehnai Vadak —Bismillah Than. The winner of Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of India, his dedication to music and his love for India.

"Pungi” a musical instrument, was banned by Emperor Aurangzeb, because of its shrill and unpleasant sound. In fact, it was regarded more as a noise maker rather than a musical instrument. It was modified and perfected by a barber who belonged to a family of professional musicians. He played it in the chamber of the king. Its sound was so appreciated by the emperor that it was made a part of Naubat. Since it was played for the first time in Shah's chamber by a Nai, it came to be known as Shehnai.

Traditionally, it was played in the temples and on every auspicious domestic occasions also. Its sound was regarded as auspicious. But it was treated as an incomplete musical instrument, not capable of creating independent pages. But Bismillah broke this myth.

Bismillah belongs to the Benares Gharana. He was born in 1916 at Dumraon, in Bihar. As a 5 year old, he used to visit the Bihariji Temple and sing Bhojpuri "Chaitya" there. For his melodious singing he used to earn a big Laddu from the local Bhojpuri King. At the age of 6, he moved to Benares. There under the guidance and training of his maternal uncle, Ali Bux, he started picking up the finer nuances of shehnai. He used to spend most of his time practicing on the banks of the River Ganges. The themes of his music were deeply affected by the sounds of flowing water of the Ganga.

Quick Revision Notes

  • Shehnai replaced pungi which had a  shrill unpleasant sound.
  • Pungi’s tonal quality was improved by a nai (barbar) of sah (emperor Aurnangeb); hence it was named as shehnai.
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan is a Shehnai Maestro. Bismillah khan took to music early in life when he was 3 years old in the company of his maternal uncle.
  • He used to sing ‘ Chiata’ in Bihariji temple and practicing shehnai  in Vishnu temple and Mangala Maiya temple of Varanasi.
  • His life is a source of simplicity and communal harmony.
  • Bismillah khan got his big break with the opening of All India Radio in Lucknow in 1938.
  • He also played shehnai on 15 August, 1947 from Red fort in presence of Pandit Nehru.
  • Bismillah khan gave many memorable performance both in India and abroad.
  • He also gave music in  two movies ‘Gunj Uthi shehnai’ and ‘Sanadhi Apanna”.
  • He was so fond of his motherland India, Benaras and the  holy Ganga that he refused an offer to be the Head of Shehnai school in USA.
  • In 2001, Ustad Bismillah khan was awarded India’s highest civilian avard, the Bharat Ratna.

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