Celebrating what would have been the 102nd birthday of Ustad Bismillah Khan, Google is marking the day with a special doodle. The doodle is visible today if you head over to the Google India homepage.
Khan was the shehnai maestro and one of India’s most beloved musicians. He was born in Bhirung Raut Ki Gali in Bihar to a family of court musicians. Interestingly, it is believed that his grandfather exclaimed “Bismillah!” upon seeing him, and the name stuck. Ustad, which means master, is an honorific he gained over the years as he mastered over the shehnai.
Bismillah Khan’s shehnai is iconic for India in more ways than one. India’s declaration of independence in 1947 and the creation of the Indian republic in 1950 were heralded by Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai. To this day, Republic Day celebrations are broadcast to the opening notes of his music.
Khan started playing in public at the age of 14, but his performance at the All India Music Conference at Kolkata in 1937 (when he was 21) became a defining moment in his career. Three decades later, when he performed at the Edinburgh Music Festival, the shehnai acquired a global audience.
“Ustad ji was famously devoted to his art and often referred to his shehnai as his begum (wife). He is one of the few musicians to receive the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor in addition to all four Padma awards. Despite the fame, Ustad Bismillah Khan remained a simple man, living his whole life in Varanasi and dreaming of a world unified by music,” Google writes in its blog.