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HomeTren&dHow is a Shehnai Different from a Pungi?

How is a Shehnai Different from a Pungi?

The world of musical instruments is vast and diverse, with each instrument having its unique characteristics and cultural significance. In this article, we will explore the differences between two traditional wind instruments from India – the shehnai and the pungi. While both instruments may appear similar at first glance, they have distinct features that set them apart. Let’s delve into the details and understand the nuances of these fascinating instruments.

1. Origins and History

The shehnai and pungi both have their roots in ancient Indian music traditions. However, their origins and historical significance differ.


The shehnai is a double-reed wind instrument that originated in North India. It is believed to have been introduced by the Mughals during the 13th century. The shehnai gained popularity in the royal courts and was often played during auspicious occasions, such as weddings and religious ceremonies. It became an integral part of Indian classical music and is associated with the legendary musician Ustad Bismillah Khan.


The pungi, on the other hand, is a wind instrument that traces its roots back to ancient India. It is often associated with snake charmers and is traditionally made from a gourd or a hollowed-out bamboo tube. The pungi was primarily used by snake charmers to attract and control snakes, as the sound produced by the instrument mimics the hissing sound of a snake. While the pungi has a long history in Indian folklore and traditional performances, it is not as prominent in classical music as the shehnai.

2. Construction and Design

The shehnai and pungi may share some similarities in appearance, but their construction and design differ significantly.


The shehnai is typically made from wood, such as rosewood or ebony. It consists of a wooden body with a conical bore, which gives it a distinctive sound. The instrument has a metal or wooden mouthpiece with a double reed, similar to that of an oboe. The shehnai usually has between six to nine finger holes, allowing the musician to produce a wide range of notes. It is often adorned with intricate carvings and decorations, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of India.


The pungi, on the other hand, is a simpler instrument in terms of construction. It is made from a hollowed-out bamboo tube or a gourd. The instrument has two reeds, one for producing sound and the other for controlling the pitch. Unlike the shehnai, the pungi has only two finger holes, limiting the range of notes that can be played. The simplicity of its design makes it easier to produce the characteristic hissing sound associated with snake charming.

3. Sound and Playing Techniques

The shehnai and pungi produce distinct sounds and require different playing techniques.


The shehnai is known for its rich and melodious sound. It has a warm and resonant tone that can be both soothing and uplifting. The instrument is capable of producing a wide range of notes and can be played in various octaves. Skilled shehnai players can create intricate melodies and ornamentations, showcasing their virtuosity. The playing technique involves controlling the airflow and embouchure to produce different pitches and dynamics.


The pungi, on the other hand, is known for its unique hissing sound. The instrument produces a distinct, nasal tone that resembles the sound of a snake. The playing technique involves blowing air into the instrument while simultaneously manipulating the finger holes to control the pitch. Skilled snake charmers can create a mesmerizing rhythm and melody using the pungi, often accompanied by other percussive instruments.

4. Cultural Significance

Both the shehnai and pungi hold cultural significance in different contexts.


The shehnai is deeply rooted in Indian culture and is considered a symbol of auspiciousness and celebration. It is often played during weddings, religious ceremonies, and festivals. The instrument is believed to bring good luck and is associated with joyous occasions. The shehnai has also gained recognition on the global stage, with renowned musicians like Ustad Bismillah Khan popularizing its use in classical music.


The pungi, although not as prominent in classical music, has its own cultural significance. It is closely associated with snake charmers and their performances. In Indian folklore, snake charmers were believed to possess mystical powers and could communicate with snakes using the pungi. While snake charming is now banned in many places due to ethical concerns, the pungi remains an important part of Indian folk traditions.


In conclusion, the shehnai and pungi may share some similarities in appearance, but they are distinct instruments with different origins, construction, sound, and cultural significance. The shehnai is a versatile and melodious instrument that holds a prominent place in Indian classical music and is associated with joyous occasions. On the other hand, the pungi is a simpler instrument primarily used by snake charmers to attract and control snakes, with its unique hissing sound.

Both instruments have contributed to the rich musical heritage of India and continue to captivate audiences with their unique characteristics. Whether it’s the soul-stirring melodies of the shehnai or the evocative rhythms of the pungi, these instruments remind us of the power of music to transcend boundaries and connect us to our cultural roots.


1. Can the shehnai be used to charm snakes like the pungi?

No, the shehnai is not used for snake charming. Its sound and playing technique are different from the pungi, which is specifically designed to mimic the hissing sound of a snake.

2. Are there any other instruments similar to the shehnai and pungi?

Yes, there are other instruments similar to the shehnai and pungi in different parts of the world. For example, the oboe in Western classical music has similarities to the shehnai in terms of its double reed and conical bore. The duduk, a traditional Armenian instrument, also shares some similarities with the shehnai in terms of its sound and playing technique.

3. Can the shehnai and pungi be played together in a musical ensemble?

While it is possible to play the shehnai and pungi together, they have different tonal qualities and playing techniques. It would require careful coordination and adaptation to ensure a harmonious blend of sounds.

4. Are there any famous musicians