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Ustad Bismillah KhanShehnai virtuoso Ustad Bismillah Khan passes away
21st Aug 2006  16.15 IST
By Agencies  


Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan , one of India's most celebrated classical musicians, passed away in the wee hours of Monday.

The 91-year-old Bharat Ratna awardee, who had been ailing for quite some time, died of cardiac arrest at the Heritage hospital in Varanasi.




Khan had been admitted to the hospital on Thursday with age-related health problems and weakness brought on by his refusal to eat solid food.

"His condition suddenly deteriorated and he suffered a cardiac arrest at 1.45 am. Although Khan was put on the life support system, doctors could not revive him. He was declared dead at 2.20 am today," hospital superintendent P S R Aiyer said.

Ironically, Khan's condition had marginally improved yesterday and he had been expected to regain his health soon.

Doctors attending on him had said the Ustad's vital parameters - pulse, respiration rate and blood pressure - were at normal levels yesterday. He was even given solid food after he expressed a desire to eat home-cooked 'halwa'.

Khan had appeared to be in the best of spirits and even sang a couple of songs for attending doctors, Aiyer said.

Although he had been ill for quite some time, Khan had repeatedly expressed his reluctance to be taken to hospital and was shifted by his sons and personal physician only on August 17 after his health took a turn for the worse.

President A P J Abdul Kalam, who is currently on a visit to Bangalore, has expressed shock over the Ustad's death.

Bismillah Khan was born on March 21, 1916 into a family of court musicians and later trained under his uncle, the late Ali Bux 'Vilayatu,' a shehnai player attached to Varanasi's Vishwanath temple.

On India's first Republic Day, Khan had enthralled audiences with a sterling performance from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

During his long and fruitful career as an artiste, he regaled music lovers at performances across the globe.

Apart from his trips to Afghanistan, Europe, Iran, Iraq, Canada, West Africa, USA, USSR, Japan and Hong Kong, Khan had also visited almost every capital city across the world.

He was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, the Tansen award as well as the Padma Vibhushan.

In 2001, Khan became the third classical musician to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour.

The Ustad has often been credited with taking the shehnai from the marriage mandap to the concert hall. His eminence assured him of a busy performance calendar as well as the highest fees.

But life for an ailing Khan was far from easy. He was not very well off in his last days as his joint family of 60 members literally lived off him.

Despite his fame, his lifestyle retained its old world charm and he continued to use the cycle rickshaw as his chief mode of transport till the end.

The shehnai maestro is survived by his five sons and three daughters.



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