Class 9 -The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan | Word Meanings Paragraph Wise

Here you get the paragraph wise word meanings of the lesson ‘The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan’ which is Part II of the Chapter “The Sound of Music”. Click here for more class 9 English study materials

Word Meanings: The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan

1. EMPEROR Aurangzeb banned the playing of a musical instrument called pungi in the royal residence for it had a shrill unpleasant sound. Pungi became the generic name for reeded noisemakers. Few had thought that it would one day be revived. A barber of a family of professional musicians, who had access to the royal palace, decided to improve the tonal quality of the pungi. He chose a pipe with a natural hollow stem that was longer and broader than the pungi, and made seven holes on the body of the pipe. When he played on it, closing and opening some of these holes, soft and melodious sounds were produced. He played the instrument before royalty and everyone was impressed. The instrument so different from the pungi had to be given a new name. As the story goes, since it was first played in the Shah’s chambers and was played by a nai (barber), the instrument was named the ‘shehnai’.


Emperor – A sovereign ruler of an empire or a large and powerful state.
Aurangzeb – A Mughal emperor who ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent from 1658 to 1707.
Banned – Prohibited or forbidden by an official order.
Musical instrument – An object designed to produce musical sounds when played.
Pungi – A reeded musical instrument that produces a shrill and unpleasant sound.
Generic name – A general or common name used to refer to a group or category of things.
Tonal quality – The characteristic sound or tone of a musical instrument.
Melodious – Pleasant-sounding and tuneful.
Royalty – Members of a royal family or the sovereign ruler and their immediate family.
Shehnai – A musical instrument similar to the pungi but with improved tonal quality, longer and broader hollow stem, and additional holes on the body, played by a barber in the royal palace.

2. The sound of the shehnai began to be considered auspicious. And for this reason it is still played in temples and is an indispensable component of any North Indian wedding. In the past, the shehnai was part of the naubat or traditional ensemble of nine instruments found at royal courts. Till recently it was used only in temples and weddings. The credit for bringing this instrument onto the classical stage goes to Ustad Bismillah Khan.


Auspicious – Regarded as favorable or fortunate.
Temples – Places of worship for religious ceremonies and rituals.
Indispensable – Absolutely necessary or essential.
Component – A constituent part or element of something.
North Indian wedding – A wedding ceremony and celebration following the customs and traditions of North India.
Naubat – A traditional ensemble of nine instruments that was played at royal courts.

3. As a five-year old, Bismillah Khan played gilli-danda near a pond in the ancient estate of Dumraon in Bihar. He would regularly go to the nearby Bihariji temple to sing the Bhojpuri ‘Chaita’, at the end of which he would earn a big laddu weighing 1.25 kg, a prize given by the local Maharaja. This happened 80 years ago, and the little boy has travelled far to earn the highest civilian award in India — the Bharat Ratna.


Gilli-danda – A traditional Indian game played with a small wooden stick (gilli) and a larger stick (danda).
Estate – A large piece of property, often with a grand house or mansion, and usually owned by a wealthy family.
Bhojpuri – A language spoken in the Bihar region of India.
Chaita – A traditional Bhojpuri folk song.
Laddu – A round-shaped sweet delicacy often made of flour, sugar, and ghee.
Maharaja – A title used for a great king or ruler in India.

4. Born on 21 March 1916, Bismillah belongs to a well-known family of musicians from Bihar. His grandfather, Rasool Bux Khan, was the shehnai Nawaz of the Bhojpur king’s court. His father, Paigambar Bux, and other paternal ancestors were also great shehnai players.


Well-known – Familiar to many people; famous or renowned.
Shehnai Nawaz – An expert or master player of the shehnai.
Bhojpur – A historical region in present-day Bihar, India.
Court – The place where a monarch or ruler holds sessions of government and dispenses justice.

5. The young boy took to music early in life. At the age of three when his mother took him to his maternal uncle’s house in Benaras (now Varanasi), Bismillah was fascinated watching his uncles practise the shehnai. Soon Bismillah started accompanying his uncle, Ali Bux, to the Vishnu temple of Benaras where Bux was employed to play the shehnai. Ali Bux would play the shehnai and Bismillah would sit captivated for hours on end. Slowly, he started getting lessons in playing the instrument and would sit practising throughout the day. For years to come the temple of Balaji and Mangala Maiya and the banks of the Ganga became the young apprentice’s favourite haunts where he could practise in solitude. The flowing waters of the Ganga inspired him to improvise and invent raagas that were earlier considered to be beyond the range of the shehnai.


Maternal – Relating to a mother or mother’s side of the family.
Fascinated – Extremely interested or captivated by something.
Vishnu temple – A temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, a major deity in Hinduism.
Benaras/Varanasi – A city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, known for its religious significance.
Captivated – Enthralled or deeply fascinated.
Haunts – Places frequently visited or favoured by someone.
Apprentice – A person learning a trade or art under a skilled worker or master.
Ganga – The Ganges, a major river in the Indian subcontinent considered sacred in Hinduism.

6. At the age of 14, Bismillah accompanied his uncle to the Allahabad Music Conference. At the end of his recital, Ustad Faiyaz Khan patted the young boy’s back and said, “Work hard and you shall make it.” With the opening of the All India Radio in Lucknow in 1938 came Bismillah’s big break. He soon became an often-heard shehnai player on radio.


Allahabad Music Conference – A prominent music festival and conference held in Allahabad, India, showcasing classical music performances and attracting renowned musicians.
Recital – A performance or presentation of music, usually by a soloist or a small group of musicians.
Ustad – A title used to honour and recognize a master or highly skilled musician in the Indian classical music tradition.
Faiyaz Khan – Ustad Faiyaz Khan, a renowned classical musician and vocalist in Hindustani classical music.
Work hard and you shall make it – An expression of encouragement, suggesting that with dedication and effort, one can achieve success.
All India Radio – The national public radio broadcaster in India, providing broadcasts and programs in various languages and genres. It was launched on 8 June 1936
Lucknow – A city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, known for its rich cultural heritage and contributions to classical music and dance.

7. When India gained independence on 15 August 1947, Bismillah Khan became the first Indian to greet the nation with his shehnai. He poured his heart out into Raag Kafi from the Red Fort to an audience which included Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who later gave his famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech.


Independence – The state of being free from the control, influence, or support of others.
Greet – To welcome or acknowledge someone with words or gestures.
Red Fort – A historic fort in Delhi, India, from where the Prime Minister of India addresses the nation on Independence Day.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru – The first Prime Minister of India and a prominent leader in the Indian independence movement.
Tryst with Destiny – A famous speech delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of India’s independence.

8. Bismillah Khan has given many memorable performances both in India and abroad. His first trip abroad was to Afghanistan where King Zahir Shah was so taken in by the maestro that he gifted him priceless Persian carpets and other souvenirs. The King of Afghanistan was not the only one to be fascinated with Bismillah’s music. Film director Vijay Bhatt was so impressed after hearing Bismillah play at a festival that he named a film after the instrument called Gunj Uthi Shehnai. The film was a hit, and one of Bismillah Khan’s compositions, “Dil ka khilona hai toot gaya …,” turned out to be a nationwide chartbuster! Despite this huge success in the celluloid world, Bismillah Khan’s ventures in film music were limited to two: Vijay Bhatt’s Gunj Uthi Shehnai and Vikram Srinivas’s Kannada venture, Sanadhi Apanna. “I just can’t come to terms with the artificiality and glamour of the film world,” he says with emphasis.


Maestro – A distinguished musician, typically a conductor or composer.
Persian – Relating to or originating from Persia (modern-day Iran).
Celluloid – Referring to the film or movie industry.
Chartbuster – A popular song or musical recording that tops the charts or becomes a big hit.

9. Awards and recognition came thick and fast. Bismillah Khan became the first Indian to be invited to perform at the prestigious Lincoln Centre Hall in the United States of America. He also took part in the World Exposition in Montreal, in the Cannes Art Festival and in the Osaka Trade Fair. So well known did he become internationally that an auditorium in Teheran was named after him — Tahar Mosiquee Ustaad Bismillah Khan.


Awards and recognition – Honors or accolades received for achievements or contributions.
Lincoln Centre Hall – A prestigious performing arts complex in New York City, USA.
World Exposition – A large international exhibition showcasing achievements in various fields.
Cannes Art Festival – An internationally renowned film festival held in Cannes, France.
Osaka Trade Fair – A major trade fair held in Osaka, Japan.

10. National awards like the Padmashri, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan were conferred on him


Padmashri – One of the highest civilian awards in India, recognizing exceptional achievements in various fields.
Padma Bhushan – The third-highest civilian award in India, given for distinguished service of a high order.
Padma Vibhushan – The second-highest civilian award in India, awarded for exceptional and distinguished service.

11. In 2001, Ustad Bismillah Khan was awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. With the coveted award resting on his chest and his eyes glinting with rare happiness he said, “All I would like to say is: Teach your children music, this is Hindustan’s richest tradition; even the West is now coming to learn our music.’’


Bharat Ratna – The highest civilian award in India, recognizing exceptional service in any field of human endeavour (efforts).
Teach – Impart knowledge or skills to someone through instruction or example.
Hindustan – The historical and cultural region of the Indian subcontinent.

12. In spite of having travelled all over the world — Khansaab as he is fondly called — is exceedingly fond of Benaras and Dumraon and they remain for him the most wonderful towns of the world. A student of his once wanted him to head a shehnai school in the U.S.A., and the student promised to recreate the atmosphere of Benaras by replicating the temples there. But Khansaab asked him if he would be able to transport River Ganga as well. Later he is remembered to have said, “That is why whenever I am in a foreign country, I keep yearning to see Hindustan. While in Mumbai, I think of only Benaras and the holy Ganga. And while in Benaras, I miss the unique mattha of Dumraon.”


Fond – Having a strong liking or affection for something or someone.
Benaras/Varanasi – A city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, known for its religious significance.
Dumraon – A town in the Buxar district of Bihar, India.
Unique – One of a kind; distinct or unparalleled.
Mattha – A traditional Indian yogurt-based beverage.

13. Ustad Bismillah Khan’s life is a perfect example of the rich, cultural heritage of India, one that effortlessly accepts that a devout Muslim like him can very naturally play the shehnai every morning at the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

[Ustad Bismillah Khan passed away on 21 August 2006 at the age of ninety after a prolonged illness. He was given a state funeral and the Government of India declared one day of national mourning.]


Devout – Deeply religious and committed to religious beliefs.
Muslim – A follower or practitioner of the Islamic faith.
Kashi Vishwanath temple – A famous Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in Varanasi, India.
Cultural heritage – The traditions, customs, beliefs, and achievements of a particular group or society.

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