How many of you have watched Sridevi swooning to the tune of the Been being played in the movie Nagin? Well, even though the scene may tickle your funny bone a bit, I want to draw your attention to the Been, also known as the Pungi. Let me ask you another question. Do you know what you can make with dried bottle gourd and bamboo? Donning your MasterChef cap and thinking, are you? Well the answer is, you can make a Been! Who would have imagined that a music instrument is made of vegetables!
The Pungi, Been or Tumbi is a popular snake charmer’s instrument (hence the Icchadhaari Nagin Sridevi reference) and originally developed as a folk instrument. With two reed pipes — one for melody and the other a drone, the Pungi is played without any pauses in the music. A true Breathless style, the feat is achieved not by the use of any computer software but, by a specific breathing technique to produce a continuous tone without any interruption.
While the Pungi is a folk instrument, there are many other wind instruments used in Indian Classical Music (ICM). And so, we come to the fourth category of instruments called Sushir Vadya which use air, directly or indirectly to produce sound.
One of my friends brought back mesmerizing photos of her holiday in Ladakh. But what fascinated me were the images of a music instrument in the hands of some of the natives. A pair of long horns, almost seven feet in length, being played by Tibetan monks. Used in Buddhist ceremonies, the sound of the Tibetan Horns or Dungchen is compared to the trumpeting of elephants.
The earliest aero phones (wind instruments) were made of animal horns and even human bones. Excavations in the Indus Valley have revealed the existence of whistles shaped like birds. Another ancient instrument popular in Indian rituals is the Conch (Shankh). This natural instrument can produce only one swar (note). According to a medical research conducted at the Berlin University, blowing the Shankh over several years boosts physical and mental health. It exercises the lungs, jaw and opens up the nervous system.
Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath is the eleventh generation of her family to be dedicated to the ancient art form of Indian classical music. She has performed in India and abroad, has music albums to her credit and successfully runs her classical music academy all over Mumbai.