India Mourns Legendary Musician
Shilpa • onDid You Know 12 years ago • 2 min read

The funeral has been held for one of India's most famous musicians, Ustad Bismillah Khan, who has died aged 91. He was buried with full state honours in his home town of Varanasi after suffering a heart attack on Monday August 2006.

The body of India's best-known player of the shehnai wind instrument lay in state in a city park throughout the day. Thousands paid their respects.

India's government has declared a day of national mourning. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led tributes to Khan.

"This is a truly sad day in the world of music," Mr Singh said, calling Khan "one of our greatest living musicians".

"Legendary personality Ustad Bismillah Khan is no more with us. His passing away brings an era to an end."

Bismillah Khan is credited with popularising the shehnai, a wind instrument which can be loosely compared to an oboe, and elevating its status in India.

He had the rare distinction of performing as the Indian flag was unfurled at the historic Red Fort in Delhi to mark the country's independence from Britain in 1947.

Jewel of India

Fans flocked to pay homage to Khan in Varanasi before he was laid to rest under a neem tree in a burial ground in the old city.

"It's a loss to the nation," said one, music student Gurpreet Singh. "He treated everyone as equal. He never believed in any casteism."

Bismillah Khan was admitted to hospital last week after he complained of weakness.

A practising Muslim, he made the Hindu holy town of Varanasi (also known as Benares) his home and could often be seen playing by the banks of the holy river Ganges, offering prayers to the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati.

Khan often played shehnai in the local temples too.

He was seen as a symbol of India's religious pluralism and harmony for people of different faiths, and was awarded the country's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), in 2001.

Born on 21 March, 1916, into a family of court musicians, Khan started training at the young age of six and was soon regarded as a master in his own right.

He was known for living a simple and austere life at his home in a narrow alleyway of Varanasi and cycle-rickshaw was his favourite mode of transport.



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