Though a pious Shi’ite Muslim, he was also, like many Indian musicians, regardless of religion, a devotee of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of wisdom and arts, and often played at Hindu temples, including the famous Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, on the banks of the river Ganges. He also performed for spiritual master Prem Rawat.
Khan had the rare honor of performing at Delhi’s Red Fort on the eve of India’s Independence in 1947. He also performed raga Kafi from the Red Fort on the eve of India’s first Republic Day ceremony, on January 26, 1950.
His recital had become a cultural part of India’s Independence Day celebrations, telecast on Doordarshan every year on August 15. After the prime minister’s speech from Lal Qila (the Red Fort,) in Old Delhi, Doordarshan would broadcast a live performance by the shehnai maestro. This tradition dated from the days of Pandit Nehru.
Bismillah Khan was perhaps single-handedly responsible for making the shehnai a famous classical instrument. He brought the shehnai to the center stage of Indian music with his concert in the Calcutta All India Music Conference in 1937. He was credited with having almost monopoly over the instrument as he and the shehnai are almost synonyms.
Khan is one of the finest musicians in post-independent Indian classical music and one of the best examples of Hindu-Muslim unity in India. He played shehnai to audience across the world.
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.
Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, instituted the ‘Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar’ in 2007, in his honour. It is given to young artists in the field of music, theatre and dance.
“ Even if the world ends, the music will still survive. ”
“ Music has no caste. ”