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Ustad Bismillah Khan dead

Last updated on: August 21, 2006 13:14 IST

Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan died of cardiac arrest in the wee hours of Monday morning.

The 91-year-old Bharat Ratna awardee, who had been admitted to Heritage hospital on August 17 with age-related health problems, passed away at 2.20 am.

"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 on Monday," hospital superintendent P S R Aiyer said.

Khan's condition had marginally improved on Sunday with his vital parameters like pulse, respiration rate and blood pressure at normal levels, doctors attending on him had said. He had even been given solid food after he expressed a desire to eat home-cooked halwa.

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

Khan's body was brought to his residence in the Harha Sarai locality by his family members, where a large number of people, including his relatives and well wishers, had gathered to pay their last respects to the departed icon. He is survived by his five sons and three daughters.

The shehnai maestro's body will be kept at the Benia Bagh park adjoining his residence to enable well wishers and residents of the city to pay their homage to the Bharat Ratna awardee, family sources said.

District Magistrate Rajeev Agrawal, who visited the Heritage hospital after being intimated about Khan's demise, ordered all schools and colleges to be closed for a day as a mark of respect to the departed legend.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and several other prominent dignitaries were expected to arrive in the temple city to pay their tributes.

Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh and Benaras Hindu University vice-chancellor Panjab Singh had also visited Khan in hospital on Sunday.

The minister asked the Ustad about his wish to perform at India Gate, to which Khan had replied that it was his last wish, which would be fulfilled if God willed so.

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

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 at Varanasi's Vishwanath temple.

During his long and fruitful career as an artiste, Khan enthralled audiences at performances across the globe. He was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, the Tansen award as well as the Padma Vibhushan.

The third classical musician after Pandit Ravi Shankar and M S Subbulakshmi to be awarded Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian honour, Khan strove to defy prejudice and convention in regard to shehnai. He fought to win a place of dignity and honour for the instrument he loved.

Recognition and laurels came thick and fast to this artist. On August 15, 1947 he performed at the historic Red Fort in Delhi after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for the first time unfurled the national flag marking India's Independance.

He turned down many offers luring him overseas, including one in which he was promised a replica of Benaras in America. He rejected it saying, "You will not be able to bring my Ganges here."

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

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