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The Shennai of Bismillah Khan
By- Deborah Cowley I
ESSAY TYPE QUESTIONS
Q.1. Write a note on the origin of the Shehnai.
Ans. 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: Ile chose a pipe with a natural hollow stem that was longer and broader than the original pungi. lie 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 ‘nai’ (barber). There is another story about the origin of Shehnai. It is said that a doctor of Iran invented it. His name was I laquim Bu All Saina and the instrument was named after him.
Q.2. What are the recurring themes of Bismillah Khan’s music and how did they originate?
Ans. At the age of flute, Bismillah Khan went to Benaras. #1 here his maternal uncle All Bux taught him the nuances of the Shehnai. the lie used to practise in the temple of Balaji and Mangla Maiya. He also practised on the banks of the Ganga. There is practised for hours in complete solitude. The flowing waters of the Ganga inspired him to improvise his music. There he invented the ‘ragas’ that were earlier considered beyond the range of Shehnai. The atmosphere of the temple and the solitude of the banks of the Ganga had a great effect on him. They influenced the themes of his music also. One such theme was the ethos of the temple. The other theme was the relationship between human beings based on the tune of the flowing river. These became the recurring themes of Bismillah Khan’s music.
3. Why is Benaras so important to Bismillah Khan?
Ans. Mr Bismillah Khan is fondly called Khansaab. He has travelled all over the world. He got honours in every country. In Tehran, an auditorium was named after him. He has seen many cities, but he remains very fond of Benaras and Dumraon. 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 I am in Mumbai, I think of only Varanasi and the holy Ganga”.
Q4.Write a note on the life and achievements of Bismillah Khan as a ‘shehnai vaadak’. What values of life do you derive from his story?
Ans. Bismillah Khan’s journey as a ‘shehnai vaadak’ carries in itself deep moral values of dedication, simplicity and patriotism. It started at the young age of three and continued up to the age of ninety. The journey ranged from playing the instrument in the temples to getting international fame.
Hailing from a family of musicians, Bismillah Khan inherited an interest in the shehnai. At a young age of three, he started accompanying his maternal Uncle Ali Bux to the Vishnu temple in Benaras and learnt a lot from him. He would sing scriptures like the Bhojpuri chaita’
Bismillah Khan got a significant break when he started playing for the All India Radio, Lucknow in 1938. His music was so admired that he was invited to play at the historic moment of Indian independence on 15 August 1947. In recognition of his talent, he was conferred upon with the greatest awards of India – the Padmashri, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, in 2001. Bismillah Khan ventured into the film world but abandoned it after he found it to be too artificial and glamorous. On the international level, he mesmerized the King of Afghanistan with o his shehnai music. He was the only Indian to be invited to play shehnai in the Lincoln Central Hall, USA. He also played inn international events like the World Exposition, Montreal, the Cannes Art Festival and the Osaka Trade Fair. As a token of appreciation, the Teheran government has named an auditorium after Bismillah Khan.
Bismillah Khan has a deep devotion to his motherland and is proud of its heritage of music. Hence, he declined the offer to settle down in foreign countries. F His journey teaches the values of dedication to one’s talent and persistent efforts to reach the greatest heights of excellence.
Q5. How does the author of The Sound of Music” portray Bismillah Khan as a great patriot?
Bismillah Khan, on receiving the Bharat Ratna, remarked, “Teach your children music, this is Hindustan’s richest tradition; even the West is now coming to learn our music.” What does it reveal about his sentiments towards India?
Ans. Bismillah Khan, in “The Sound of Music”, emerged as a person imbued with intense and strong patriotic emotions. He had a profound and passionate love for his birthplace, Dumraon in Bihar and for Benaras where he took training to play the shehnai. He feels a deep bond with the Ganga because the flowing waters of the holy river made him improvise and spontaneously play new raagas – the ones which were earlier regarded to be beyond the range of the shehnai. Such was Bismillah Khan’s love for his country and the Ganga that he refused to settle down in America to head a-school for the shehnai. His strong attachment with the sacred river made him miss Benaras when he was in Mumbai or elsewhere. Equally strong was his bonding with his birthplace Dumraon.
Bismillah Khan had a great regard for the Hindustani music which, for him, is the richest cultural heritage of India. He wanted the tradition of the Indian music to be carried on from generation to generation. That is why he advised the people of India to teach music to their children and felt proud that this music fascinated even the people of the west.
Q6. You have now read about two musicians, Evelyn Glennie and Ustad Bismillah Khan. Do you think that they both worked hard? Where did they want to go? (Textual)
Evelyn Glennie and Bismillah Khan shared the values of hard work and perseverance. Discuss.
What important lesson does the life of Evelyn Glennie and Bismillah Khan teach us?
Ans. Evelyn Glennie and Bismillah Khan, the two eminent music maestros, through their achievements, have proved to the world that the values of hard work and unstaggering efforts are always rewarded. Evelyn Glennie became an internationally admired multi-percussionist only because of her untiring work which could conquer even her handicap. Instead of yielding to her deafness, she made all-out efforts to sense the sounds of music through different parts of her body and never looked back. With her persistent efforts, she made it to the Royal Academy of Music, London and bagged the most prestigious awards. Her sincere devotion to her art has given percussion a new place on the international stage.
Bismillah Khan, like Evelyn, was dedicated to his art and attained greatest heights as a ‘shehnai vaadak’. He too worked diligently and transformed the shehnai into a classical instrument. He added enormously to what he had inherited by widening the range of the shehnai. He invented many new raagas spontaneously. Starting with playing in the temples of Benaras and on the banks of Ganga, he reached the stage of international acclaim. His hard work enabled him to win the most prestigious awards in India and in the world.
Thus, the lives of both Evelyn Glennie and Bismillah Khan are perfect examples of how dedicated efforts and persistent hard work lead to grand achievements.
Q7. Write a note on some of the most memorable performances of Ustad Bismillah Khan as described in the feature “The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan”.
Ans. During his illustrious career spanning over 80 years, Bismillah Khan gave countless music performances, but a few of them stand out as milestones in his career.
For example, his performance of the Bhojpuri ‘chaita’ at the Bihariji temple at the age of five indicated the signs of a maestro he was to evolve into. For every recital, he would get a 1.25 kg laddu as a reward from the local king. At the age of 14, he was patted for his performance at the Allahabad Music Conference by Ustad Faiyaz Khan. In 1938, Bismillah Khan got perhaps the biggest break of his career when he got to perform on the All India Radio, Lucknow. Equally remarkable was the opportunity to usher in the Independence of the country from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August 1947. His first foreign performance in Afghanistan got him rich accolades and honours. He also had the chance to provide music to two films – Vijay Bhatt’s “Gunj Uthi Shehnai” and Srinivas’s Kannada movie “Samadhi Apanna”. Then followed a string of international performances, notable among them being the performances at the prestigious Lincoln Centre Hall (USA), World Exposition (Montreal), Cannes Art Festival and Osaka Trade fair.
Q8. “Music has no religion.” How did Bismillah Khan’s Shehani prove it?
Ans. Music is the voice of the soul. It is sacred beyond the religions. It is eternal and acts as a source of inspiration for everyone. A musician never plays music for any particular religion. Bismillah Khan who belonged to the Muslim community played Shehnai in temples. He was deeply attached to the holy city of Benaras and the holy river Ganga. The river Ganga and its flowing water were the main source of inspiration for him. He could never think of leaving Benaras and holy river Ganga. Since his childhood, he was fond of music. As a five-year-old child, he used to visit Bihariji temple at Dumraon to sing Bhojpuri Chaita. His love for music was so deeply influenced by Benaras and Ganga that once a student from the USA wanted him to head a Shehnai school there. He promised him to recreate the atmosphere of Benaras in the USA by replicating the temple. But Bismillah Khan refused to say that he couldn’t take the Ganga there.
Q9. Describe the life and character of Ustad Bismillah Khan with emphasis on values of his character you should imbibe.
Ans. Ustad Bismillah Khan was a great Shehnai player. He was born in a village of Bihar state. He belonged to a family of professional musicians. He made Shehnai a famous musical instrument in the world. The government of India gave him the greatest civilian award —”Bharat Ratna”. He was a true patriot. He never showed his desire to settle abroad when he was offered several chances. Bismillah had a great passion for Shehnai. He took lessons from his maternal uncle Ali Bux and practised hard on the peaceful banks of the river Ganga. Infect his life is motivating for students. He teaches them that human beings should give up narrow mindedness. They should take values from different religions.
Q10. Why did Emperor Aurangzeb ban the playing of the pungi and how it was improved and called Shehnai?
Ans. Emperor Aurangzeb banned the playing of the pungi in the royal residence because it had a shrill and unpleasant sound. But a barber of a professional family of musicians was able to improve it. He chose a pipe with a natural hollow stem that was longer and broader than the pungi. He made seven holes on the body of the pipe. He played the instrument before the king and everyone was impressed. Since it was first played in the Shah’s chambers and was played by an’ (barber), the instrument was named the ‘Shehnai’
Q11. How was Bismillah Khan associated with the film world?
Ans. Film director Vijay Bhatt heard Bismillah Khan at a festival. He was so much impressed by Bismillah Khan that he named a film after the instrument ‘Cu& Uthi Shehnai. The film was a huge hit. One of Bismillah Khan’s compositions “Di! Ka Valens film at Toot Gaya”, turned out to be very !popular: In spite of his great success in the world, Bismillah Khan’s film music was limited to two. Vijay Bhatt’a
`Gunj Uthi Shehnai’ and Vikram Srinivas’s `Samadhi Apanna’. But Bismillah made it clear that he could not come to terms with the artificiality and glamour of the film world.
Q.12. What important lesson does the life of Bismillah Khan teach us?
Ans. Bismillah Khan teaches us a very remarkable lesson of life. People make advancement in life by dint of hard work and devotion. He was very interested in music as he was born in the family of a musician. He used to sing Chaita in the Biharji temple. When he was in Benaras, he was greatly influenced by his maternal uncle, who was a great Shehnai player. He copied his uncle in the true spirit and practised Shehnai in the peaceful environment of the Ganga. His hard work and devotion brought him good fruits. He was awarded the greatest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.