The Sound of Music (BISMILLAH KHAN)
This lesson is an effort to understand Indian classical musicians and instruments especially the origin of shehnai and Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan. Shehnai replaced pungi which had an unpleasant sound. Pungi’s tonal quality was improved by a nai (barbar) of sah (emperor Aurnangeb); hence it was named as shehnai.
The lesson beautifully deals with the early life of Bismillah khan in Dumraon in Bihar. His grandfather was a shehnai-nawaz of the bhojpur king’s court. Bismillah khan took to music early in life when he was 3 years old in the company of his maternal uncle. His life is a source of simplicity and communal harmony from the very beginning when he used to sing ‘ Chiata’ in Bihariji temple and practicing shehnai in Vishnu temple and Mangala Maiya temple of Varanasi. 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 performances both in India and abroad where he was honoured with so many awards. 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. In the end, his life is a perfect example of the rich, cultural heritage of India, one that effortlessly accepts that a devout Muslim like him can very naturally play the shehnai at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
SHORT QUESHORT QUESTIONS
Q. What do people call Bismillah fondly?
A. People call him Khansaab.
Q. Where did the young boy practice the musical instrument?
A. The young boy practiced the musical instrument at the banks of the Ganga and the temple of Balaji and Mangala Maiya.
Q. What did he invent?
A. He invented Ragas that were earlier considered to beyond the range of Shehnai.
Q. How was pungi came to be named ‘shehnai’ ?
A. A barber of a family of professional musicians decided to improve the pungi . He chose a pipe with a hollow stem that was longer and broader than the pungi . He played the instrument before the roualty and everyone was impressed. Since it was played by a barber . the instrument came to be named as ‘Shehnai’
Q. How did Bismillah Khan take to music ?
A. Bismillah Khan took to music early in life. When he was three years old, his mother took him to his maternal uncle’s house in Benaras . Bismillah Khan was fascinated watching his uncle’s practice the shehnai . soon Bismillah began to accompany his uncle to the Vishnu temple of Benaras. Meanwhile , he started getting lessons in shehnai and did a lot of practice.
ANSWERS OF THE TEXT BOOK
Q. Why did Aurangzeb ban the playing of the pungi ?
A. Aurangzeb banned the playing of the pungi because it had a shrill unpleasant sound.
Q. How is a shehnai different from a pungi ?
A. A shehnai is a pipe with a natural hollow that is longer and broader than a pungi. It has seven holes on the body of the pipe .
Q. Where was the shehnai played traditionally ? How did Bismillah Khan change this ?
A. The shehnai was played traditionally in the Vishnu temple of Varanasi . His maternal uncle used to play this instrument. He invented ragas that were earlier considered to be beyond the range of the shehnai .
Q. When and how did Bismillah Khan get his big break ?
A. Bismillah Khan got his big break with the opening of the All India Radio in Lucknow in 1938
Q. Where did Bismillah Khan play the shehnai on 15 August 1947 ? Why was the event historic?
A. Bismillah Khan played the shehnai on 15 august 1947 at Red Fort. He was the first India to greet the nation with his musical instrument . He poured his heart out into Raag Kafi to an audience which included Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru .
Q. Why did Bismillah Khan refuse to start a shehnai school in the U.S.A. ?
A. He refused to start a shehnai school in the USA because the nation did not have the holy river Ganga. It was not possible to transport the Ganga from India to the USA. That was why whenever he was in a foreign country. He kept yearning to see Hindustan.
Q. Find at least at two instances in the text which tell you that Bismillah Khan loves India and Banaras.
A. Bismillah Khan loves India and Banaras from the bottom of his heart . he says that he misses the holy Ganga and India when he goes abroad. While in Mumbai he thinks of only Banaras and the holy river.