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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
India shehnai maestro dies at 91
Bismillah Khan
Bismillah Khan's career spanned eight decades
Legendary musician Ustad Bismillah Khan, India's best known shehnai player, has died aged 91.

He suffered a heart attack in hospital in his home city of Varanasi early on Monday, his private secretary said.

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

India's government has declared a day of national mourning. A state funeral is to be held later on Monday.

Jewel of India

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.

A high point in his career was when he played shehnai at Delhi's Red Fort on the eve of India's Independence in 1947.

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.

His body is being kept in a park in Varanasi to enable people to pay their last respects before his funeral.

What is your reaction to Ustad Bismillah Khan's death?

A sad day in the music world. A tragic event. We have lost the light; however we should be thankful to Allah for his life, his works and acheivement. He touched lives of millions, may he be touched with the eternal life.
Ahmad Zahir, Toronto - Canada

The sorrow news of the death of great legendary Ustad Bismillah Khan is a great shock not only to every Indian citizen but also to every citizen of any country which feel himself or herself close to the music. Nobody can fulfill the place which we find today empty by the death of Ustad Bismillah Ji. But I hope that his name will always inspire the new generation to serve the music at their best. As every Indian, I stand strongly in this moment of great sorrow with the family member of great Ustad Ji. With deep sorrow,
Kulvinder Singh, Rome - Italy

Bismillah Khan was an example of religious diversity. Muslim terrorist gruops, who practice violence, intolerance & terrorisim in the name of Islam should look at their fellow Muslim Bismillah Khan for vision. Apart from being a great musician, Bismillah Kahn is a legend & his name belongs in the same rank as people like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa & Dalai Lama. Thank you!
Munin Che Choudrey, Chicago, US

How simple a life you lived yet what a great one it was! My heart bleeds every time I hear your music. You touched millions of hearts. Rest In Peace!
Sayed, New York, USA

He is a real ''jewel of India''. The country has lost a great musician as well a great person.
Srinivas Krish, Kuwait

Ustad Bismillah Khan lives through his music. An illustrious son of India, he epitomizes the fact that we all are children of one God and can practice our faith while appreciating and respecting other faiths. In an era where there is so much strife, his life serves as an object lesson to all. May God Bless his soul.
Siva T, Princeton,NJ

Ustad Bismillah Khan will always be remembered by all Indians (Hindus, Muslims and Christians.) Shehnai music is the ring tone of my mobile phone. It's the best way to counter the madness of New York city madness.
Sunil Reddy, New York City, USA

I remember Bismillah Khan when he visited the IIT Madras - way back in 1992 - for a concert at the Music Club. When I first saw him, his face radiated with grace. He was very happy when I told him that I belonged to Saraswathi (The name of my dorm/hostel - also the revered Hindu god of Learning). For the next four hours, I sat spellbound at 76 year old man's play of the shehnai. He played the most complex pieces that seemed so easy. He had a simple Indian meal at our guest house - and drank plain water. Such humility for so great a man, whose notes are heard at every corner of India, on any festive occasion. A true gem of India - May his soul rest in peace.
Sravan Desikan, Chennai India

It is a very painful news. India has lost one of her jewels from the crown. The maestro mesmerised the world with his amazing zhehnai sills and his death is a great loss to the nation. I express my deep condolences to his family. I am distressed and pained. May Almighty rest his soul in peace.
Ahmar Bin Ehtasham, Kanpur, India

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