The Shehnai is an aerophonic instrument, a double reed conical oboe, common in North India, made out of wood, with a metal flare bell at the end. Also known as Mangal Vadya, its sound is recognized as creating and maintaining a sense of auspiciousness and sanctity, and as a result, is widely used in North India for marriages and processions. The South Indian equivalent of the shehnai is the nadaswaram.
This tube-like instrument gradually broadens towards the lower end. It usually has between six and nine holes. It employs two sets of double reeds, making it a quadruple reed woodwind. By controlling the breath, various tunes can be played on it. Ustad (Master) Bismillah Khan was a well-known shehnai player. Another player of the shehnai is the Ahmadi Black American jazz musician, Yusef Lateef. Dave Mason played shehnai on the Rolling Stones’ 1968 hit song “Street Fighting Man”.
he shehnai is believed to have originated in the Kashmir Valley, where people use the instrument in band-i-pather. The shehnai is thought to have been created by improving upon the pungi (a woodwind folk instrument used primarily for snake charming). There are varying legends of the shehnai’s origin. In one of these, a shah initially banned the playing of the pungi in his court due to its shrill sound. A barber, belonging to a family of musicians, improved on it and created the shehnai. As it was played in the Shah’s court and giving due reference to the nai or barber, the new instrument was called shehnai.
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