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Pungi or Been

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Introduction of Pungi or Been

The pungi also called the been, is a wind instrument played by snake charmers on the Indian subcontinent. The instrument consists of a mouth-blown air reservoir made from a gourd, which channels air into two reed pipes. The pungi is played with no pauses, with the player employing circular breathing. The pungi originated in India and is still played by snake charmers in street performances.

Pungi comes with variations in nomenclature as Been or Bin, Tumbi, Nagasar, SpurerBansi in the northern part of India, while the same instrument is referred as Mahudi, Pungi, PambaattiKuzhal in the south, mostly held by snake charmers to entertain people, said to have been developed initially to go with the folk music of India.


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Origin of Pungi

Pungi is basically a snake charmer’s bread winning equipment today; however, its origin comes from the genre of folk music instruments, which was popular in Badagutittu before fifty years approximately, often used during religious occasions as Nagaswaram in the south with a still longer shape and accompaniment of a drum instrument, by talented musicians.



The pungi was originally developed as an Indian folk music instrument, and is still important for religious purposes and music in India. The pungi was popular in the Badagutittu about fifty years ago. However, prior to this it derived from Indian folk music and was used for religious purposes for snake charming.



Pungi is made out of dried bottle guard, specially seasoned for the purpose, with a small calabash to store or hold the air blown in, to be released through two reed pipes fitted to the bottom of the guard, called Jivala, one to make constant drone sound and the other to play melody, while the top end is fitted with a tube through which the Pungi player blows air through his mouth, with his bulb cheeks collecting air from his breath,  bringing out a shriek melody holding the audience spell bound, presumably the snake too, the drone and melody given without a pause for aesthetic reasons, although in recent times, metallic tubes are inserted in the calabash part of Pungi.


Playing Positions

When a snake charmer plays Pungi in front of a trained snake which he brings in a special round basket releasing it when he plays the instrument, sits with both his foot on the ground, his body not touching the ground, playing the music by circular breathing, however bringing out the tunes in line with traditional music forms, even Carnatic musicians doing vocal concerts or performance through other instruments like flute, render numbers based on Pungi form of music.


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Indian musical practices often coincide with religious ideals. An example would be the comprehensive practice of mantra incantation, which can be defined as a succession of syllables (with or without meaning) used to create prayer to a supernatural force or deity. The pungi is believed to be one of the many ways in which one can communicate with the gods through devotional genres.


How to play Pungi or Been


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