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The shehnai is a musical instrument, originating from the Indian subcontinent. It is made of wood, with a double reed at one end and a metal or wooden flared bell at the other end. Its sound is thought to create and maintain a sense of auspiciousness and sanctity and as a result, is widely used during marriages, processions, and in temples, although it is also played in concerts. It was a part of the Nau bat or traditional ensemble of nine instruments found in the royal court. The shehnai is like South India’s Nagasawa.


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The shehnai is thought to have been developed by improving upon the pungi (a woodwind folk instrument used primarily for snake charming). Another theory of the origin of the shehnai is that the name is a modification of the word " shahnai ". The word nai is used in many Indian languages to mean barber. The word "shah" refers to a Royal. Since it was first played in the Shah's chambers and was played by a nai (barber), the instrument was named "shehnai". 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 Nau bat 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 Us tad Bismillah Khan. The counterparts to the shehnai played in West India and Coastal Karnataka are indigenous to the territory. Shehnai players were/are an integral part of Goan /Konkani and temples along the western coast and the players are called Vajantri and were allotted lands for services rendered to the temples.

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This tubular instrument gradually broadens towards the lower end. It usually has between six and nine holes. It employs one set of quadruple reeds, making it a quadruple reed woodwind. To master the instrument, the musician must employ various and intricate embouchure and fingering techniques. The shehnai has a range of two octaves, from the A below middle C to the one line above the treble clef (A3 to A5 in scientific pitch notation). A shehnai is often but not always made with a body of wood or bamboo and a flared metal end.

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Where is the Shehnai performed mostly?

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The shehnai was traditionally played in royal courts, temples, and weddings. Ustaad Bismillah khan changed the tradition by bringing this instrument onto the classical stage.

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How does Shehnai look like

Shehnai, double-reed conical oboe of North India. The shehnai is made of wood, except for a flaring metal bell attached to the bottom of the instrument, and measures about 12–20 inches (30–50 cm) in length, with six to eight keyless finger holes along its body. Possessing a two-octave range, the shehnai is a difficult instrument to play, as the musician must master a wide range of finely nuanced embouchure and fingering techniques. Like the Nageswara of southern India, the shehnai is a descendent of the Persian surna and is played on auspicious occasions, such as weddings and temple festivities. Bismillah Khan, who introduced the shehnai to the concert stage, is one of the best-known performers on this instrument.

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USTAD BISMILLAH KHAN Ustad Bismillah Khan was undoubtedly a gem that India is proud of. This shehnai maestro of India received the Bharat Ratna in 2001. He had earlier been awarded the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan. He was thus the recipient of all the top-four civilian awards. Born on March 21, 1916, in Dumraon , Bihar, he was the second son of Paigambar Khan and Mitthan . His family had a musical background; his ancestors were musicians in the court of the princely state of Bhojpur (now in Bihar). Bismillah Khan had the rare honour of playing the shehnai on the eve of India's independence in the year 1947. He performed at the Red Fort in Delhi and since that year, always played on 15th August, right after the Prime Minister’s speech. Bismillah Khan played in many countries and has a huge fan following. He had performed in Afghanistan, USA, Canada, Bangladesh, Europe, Iran, Iraq, West Africa, Japan and Hong Kong. He shared a special bond with his shehnai and called it ‘begum’ after his wife died.

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Bageshwari Qamar is the first woman shehnai player of India. Bageshwari Qamar learnt Shehnai from Ustad Bismillah Khan. She was crowned Shehnai Queen at Chandigarh in 1983, the year she made her debut. Bageshwari has recorded a jugalbandi with Ustad Bismillah Khan apart from solo cassettes. She represented India at the Bharat Mahotsav at Russia in 1988. Bageshwari Qamar is the daughter of Jagdish Prasad Qamar, the only disciple of Ustad Bismillah Khan, who joined him as per the traditional Gurukul system. Jagdish joined Ustad Bismillah Khan at the age of 10 in 1946. He lived and learned shehnai at the Ustad's house in Benaras .