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 Ustad Bismillah Khan (1916-2006) was the most outstanding Shehnai player of India in the contemporary times. His ancestors were court musicians in the princely state of Dumraon in Bihar. He was trained by his uncle, Ali Bux ‘Vilayatu’, a Shehnai player attached to Varanasi’s ‘Vishwanath Temple’. His first major public appearance was in 1930 at the age of fourteen, when he played in the All India Music Conference in Allahabad. A ‘jugalbandi’ of Shehnai and Sitar performed by Bismillah Khan and Sitar Nawaz Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, for the film ‘Gunj Uthi Shehnai’ is considered as a masterpiece. He had the rare honour of performing at the Red Fort on the eve of India’s Independence in 1947 as well as on the eve of India’s first Republic Day on January 26, 1950. He has been bestowed with several honours and awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1956), Padma Shri (1961), Padma Bhushan (1968), Padma Vibhushan (1980) and the Bharat Ratna (2001).

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