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Benaras and the Great Music Maestro Bismillah Khan

Updated: 5 days ago

Original Article was published in my Medium Page


Photograph of the Book — ‘Bismillah Khan — The Maestro From Benaras’ by Juhi Sinha


Book Review of the Book — ‘Bismillah Khan — The Maestro from Benaras’


Benaras is a city, where even the Ganges water ripples along with the beautiful rhythm, which echoes from the Shehnai of the musicians. The susurration of the Sarods, the beats of the tabla, the mellifluous tunes of the Shehnai brings admiration and veneration for a culture, which with years have increased in opulence. The musicians in Benaras are the connoisseurs of classical music and sing songs, which have the ability to take a human in a different plane.


Varanasi or Benaras in India is one of the holiest cities as per Hinduism. It is a city, which is an important pilgrimage place for the Hindus. The beauty of the city is that it is beside river Ganga, which has its own spiritual importance. It is said that the river Ganga has the capacity to wash away sins of previous births. This belief about Ganga in addition to the culture, heritage and music of Benaras adds to the joie de vivre of local residents.


There are much documentation, which states that the city is the center of learning and civilization for over 3000 years. It is still now said that Buddha preached his first sermon after enlightment at Sarnath, which is about 10 km away from Benaras. The city has many temples and many are of the view that Shri Tulsidas, who was a pioneer in the verses of Ramayana also stayed here.


In the words of the author, Juhi Sinha in the book — Bismillah Khan — The Maestro From Benaras:


There are many factors that have given Benaras its unique place in India, but perhaps the most important of these is the River Ganga. The mysticism of the Ganga and its spiritual impact on the collective psyche of all Indians is undeniable.


It’s this Ganga which has acquired a divinity and has influenced the logic and practicality.


Bismillah Khan was born in Dumraon, a small town in Bihar, in the district of Buxar, which is near the border of eastern of Uttar Pradesh, India. It was a very prosperous town nearly a century ago. This town use to have its own Raja or King and here Bismillah was born at Bhirang Raut Ki Gali in Dumraon.


Bismillah Khan’s father Paighambar Bux and grandfather Rasool Bux was both Shehnai players. The author says in his book that though Dumraon will always be remembered as the birth place of Bismillah Khan but it is also a place where a special kind of reed, the narkat, grew wild in these regions. Still it is said that the successors of Khan go back to Dumraon in search of these.


In the lines of the author, Juhi Sinha in the book — Bismillah Khan — The Maestro From Benaras:


Nearly a hundred years after Bismillah’s birth, his successors still go back to Dumraon where a small piece of land marks the house of Rasool Bux, where Bismillah was born and where the family still buys the narkat that is only found in this town.


The guru of Bismillah Khan was Ali Bux, under whom Bismillah had a broader thought of life. He had a larger picture of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of Learning, to whom he daily paid obeisance.


His whole hearted acceptance of the fact that the path to the almighty can be many was something which made his ordinary life, extra-ordinary.


His thoughts were almost Sufi in character but in no way, did it impinge on his role and the duties of a Shia Muslim. It was said at that time that whenever the country needed someone who has a secular voice, it was Bismillah Khan, who was always in the forefront.


It was in the year 1980, wife of Bismillah Khan passed away and it left Bismillah Khan very lonely. It was said that Bismillah was advised to marry but he remained alone. His only companion was his shehnai. Such was the simplicity of this great Shehnai Maestro that the author, Juhi Sinha in the book — Bismillah Khan — The Maestro From Benaras, writes:


Bismillah was surrounded by people, sons, daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, friends and visitors; some even called his home ‘Bismillah Hotel’, but Bismillah always found space an quiet for himself in the single room on the rooftop terrace. It is extremely small room — Spartan in its simplicity. A bed, table and a few personal belongings are the only objects in the room, and of course, there would also be his Shehnai.


Bismillah was the recipient of many national awards the Padma Shree (1961), Padma Bhushan (1968), Padma Vibhushan (1980) and he received Bharat Ratna in the year 2001.


Bismillah Khan was invited by the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to play Shehnai on the first Independence Day (15 August, 1947) in Delhi’s Red Fort.



Photograph of the Book — ‘Bismillah Khan — The Maestro From Benaras’ by Juhi Sinha


He was the only musician, who had the rare distinction of performing his Shehnai on the eve of India’s first Independence in 1947. During his lifetime Bismillah Khan have visited many countries like Afganisthan, USA, Canada, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, West Africa, Japan, Hong Kong and many other parts of Europe.


In an interview with a newspaper, it was understood that Bismillah was a man of few needs. It will be a great surprising thing that through-out his life, he had never bought a vehicle as written in the book.


However, in the later years of his life, the simplicity of this genius and his faquiri lifestyle created larger than life learnings for everyone. It was on 21 August, 2006 at 1.45 am, Ustad Bismillah Khan complained of Chest pain and he was shifted to the ICU and it was there Bismillah left for heavenly abode. It was the end of a musical era. Bismillah khan was buried at his beloved Fatmaan, under the neem tree where he had sat and played his shehnai so often during his life.


The author Juhi Sinha writes in his book ‘Bismillah Khan — The Maestro From Benaras’:


Today, an old poster on a wall marks the grave; the last resting place of Bharat Ratna Bismillah Khan. As in life, so in death — his grave is simple, unadorned and bare.


Juhi Sinha is an excellent writer and the way he has written the book is sure to make many emotional. Such well presented facts and the way of expression is something, which needs appreciation. This is one of the best books, I have read on a musical genius.


If I have to rate the book on 10 stars and 10 being the highest, I will give the book 9.5 stars.


(Please Note: The above are my own personal thoughts after going through the book. Your views, facts and opinions after reading the book may differ)


This is all from me in this article. Hope you have liked my personal thoughts and opinions. Please share your thoughts or comments if your time permits.


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Thanks and Regards:

Mainak Majumdar, Book Critic

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