The shehnai is a woodwind instrument of Indian origin. The double-reed inside a conical wooden bore creates an oboe-like sound that has become distinctive of Indian music. The shehnai can reach a range of two octaves and is played without keys, instead the player uses finger holes to create sound through the flared bell of the instrument.
History of the Shehnai
The shehnai has a long history that dates back to its early ancestors. It is believed to have been developed from the sorna (Zūrnā or surna) which existed in Persia and was likely to have also been an evolution of the Indian pungi. The pungi was a woodwind instrument that was employed as a tool for snake charming in North India. Various legends surround the subsequent development of the shehnai, including that the sound of the pungi was too shrill for a shah (king) of the time so the instrument had to be perfected. In the 19th century, the shehnai became traditionally linked to wedding services in North India as a signal that a marriage was about to take place. Shehnai players would gather on the rooftop of houses that were announcing a wedding and play days in advance of the service taking place. The music would also sound continuously throughout the wedding. Unlike a pungi, there is no drone with a shehnai so this continuous sound had to be created with multiple shehnai players. In the 20th century, this tradition faded, and the prevalence of the shehnai has dwindled due to its lack of popularity outside of India and the complexity of the fingering techniques required. However, it still has a strong association to North Indian music.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£18 - £60

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How to Play

A type of oboe played by blowing air into the mouthpiece and covering the finger holes to change the pitch of the sound produced.

In Popular Music

The Beatles used a shehnai on their song ‘The Inner Light’ written by George Harrison. The shehnai is rarely used in Western music but has often been used in Bollywood film scores. The Bollywood romance film Fanaa (2006) features a shehnai on "Mere Haath Mein", while Lagaan by director Ashutosh Gowariker features a shehnai on the recording "Mitwa"

Famous Players

Bismillah Khan, Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan

Close Relations

Nagaswaram, Pungi
Video Credit: cre8ivmind
Understanding the Shehnai










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