This chapter tells us about the origin of the Indian musical instrument Shehnai. It also gives the life history of the great Shehnai player, Bismillah Khan. It is said that in the past a musical instrument called pungi used to be played in palaces before the kings and Nawabs. But Aurangzeb did not like the shrill and unpleasant sound of the pungi. So he banned the playing of this musical instrument in the royal residence. There was a barber who belonged to a family of musicians. He had access to the royal palace. He tried hard to improve the tonal quality of the instrument. He chose a pipe with a natural hollow stem that was longer and broader than the original pungi. He carved seven holes on the body of the instrument. When he played on it, an impressive sonorous tonal sound was produced. The barber played it before the king and his courtiers. Everybody was impressed. [the instrument was called Shehnai because it was born in the Shah’s chamber and was invented by a Mar (barber). There is another story about the origin of Shehnai. The original Shehnai players were mostly employed in temples. They played the Shehnai before the images at various times of the day. It was also played on North Indian weddings and every auspicious occasion. Gradually, the Shehnai became very popular. Ustad Bismillah Khan is the greatest Shehnai player. He belongs to the Benaras Gharana of Hindustani Music. He was born at Dumraon in Bihar. lie belonged to a family of professional Shehnai players. As a five-year-old boy, Bismillah Khan used to play gill i-danda near a pond in Dumraon. After playing they generally went to a nearby temple called Bihariji Temple. a lie would sit there and sing the Bhojpuri chaita’. The local Maha-raja was pleased to hear him sing. At the age of three, he went to Benaras. There his maternal uncle All Bux taught him the art of playing Shehnai. For hours, he would practice in the temples of Balaji and Mangala Maiya. He would also go to the bank of Ganga mid practise in solitude. Even as a child, Bismillah Khan won many awards. He got his first big award when he was only 14 years old. He got it at the All India Music Conference in Allahabad. On the day of independence, 15th August 1947, he played at the Red Fort at the request of Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1999, lie was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the country. Bismillah Khan is fondly called Khansaab. He has travelled all over the world. I got honours in every country, In Tehran, an auditorium was named after him. a lie has seen many cities, but he remains very fond of
Benaras and Duntroon. He calls them the most wonderful towns in the world. He has a special fascination for Benaras because of the Ganga there. In his youth, he used to practise Shehnai in solitude on the banks of the Ganga. Once one of his students in the USA requested him to head a Shehnai school there. He said that he would recreate the atmosphere of Benaras by building similar temples there. But the Ustad asked him whether he would bring the Ganga also there. Once he said, “Whenever 1 is in Mumbai. I think of only Varanasi and the holy Ganga”. And while in Varanasi, I miss the unique “mattha in Dumraon”.
“The Sound of Music” (Part II) briefly relates how Bismillah Khan, the Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratan recipient, made an immensely valuable contribution to the musical world of ‘shehnai’. Hailing from a family of musicians, Bismillah Khan secured for the shehnai a place among the classical musical instruments. He improvised many new ragas and his originality won him accolades at the international level as well.
Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor had imposed a ban on the musical instrument pungi in the royal family because he found its sound to be jarring and shrill. However, a barber tried to improve the music of the pungi. He took a hollow stem which was wider than the pungi, made seven holes in it and produced music that was soft and melodious. The barber (nai) played it in the royal court (in the court of Shah) and the instrument was named ‘Shehnai’. Then onwards, the music of shehnai came to be associated with auspicious occasions. It was played in temples and during weddings, particularly in northern India. Born in 1916 in Dumroan, Bihar, Bismillah Khan belonged to a well-known family of musicians. His grandfather, Rasool Bux Khan was a shehnai player in the court of the king of Bhojpur. His father, Paigamba.
Bux and his paternal and maternal uncles were also great shehnai players. Bismillah Khan got fascinated by music at a very young age of three years. At the age of five, he used to regularly go to the nearby Bihariji temple to sing the Bhojpuri chaita‘. He was awarded a big ‘Laddu‘ by the Maharaja for his melodious singing. In Benaras, he got training from his maternal uncle, Ali Bux, who played shehnai in the Vishnu temple. When Bismillah Khan was fourteen, his talent came to be recognized in the A I Allahabad Music Conference. A big opportunity came his way when in 1938, All India Radio was established in Lucknow, where he played shehnai frequently. In Benaras, the Ganga provided him with much inspiration and in harmony with the flowing waters of the Ganga, Bismillah Khan discovered new raagasfor shehnai. He developed such devotion for the Ganga and for Dumraon that he declined to settle down in America when he was offered an opportunity.
At the most important moment in Indian history, the declaration of the independence of India in 1947, Bismillah Khan’s shehnai ushered in a new era. It was played prior to the speech of our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru.
Unlike other musicians, the glamour of the film industry failed to captivate Bismillah Khan. Although he contributed to the music of two films, he did not pursue this option further. He was rewarded for his dedication to shehnai with national awards – the Padmashri, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan. In 2001, he received the highest civilian award of India, Bharat Ratan. He was the first Indian invited to perform in Lincoln Central Hall, USA. Bismillah Khan’s love for both Muslim religion and Hindu temples gives a message that India is a land with a liberal environment.
A musical instrument called pungi was banned by Emperor Aurangzeb for its shrill unpleasant sound. It was perfected by a barber who belonged to a family of professional musicians. Its sound was appreciated by the emperor. Since it was first played in the Shah’s Chamber and played by Nai (barber), it was named Shehnai. In the beginning, it was played in the temples before the images of gods and goddesses. It was played on every auspicious domestic occasion also. Gradually it became popular. Ustad Bismillah Khan belonged to the Benaras Gharana. He was born in 1916 at Dumraon in Bihar. As a five-year-old boy, he played Gilli-danda near a pond. He used to visit Bihariji temple and sing Bhojpuri Chaita there. He would earn a big Laddu from a local Maharaja as a prize. At the age of six, he moved to Benaras. He learned to play Shehnai there from his uncle Ali Bux. Being devoted to music, he used to spend most of his time practising on the bank of the river Ganga. The themes of his music are deeply affected by the flowing water of the Ganga.
He got the best performer award at the All India Music Conference in Allahabad in 1930. In 1937 he bagged three medals at a music conference in Kolkata. He was invited by Pandit Nehru to play the Shehnai from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort in 1947. He won many International awards also.
|1. What is the plot of The Sound of Music?|
|2. Who are the main characters in The Sound of Music?|
|3. Is The Sound of Music based on a true story?|
|4. Why is The Sound of Music considered a classic?|
|5. What are some of the famous songs from The Sound of Music?|