Ustad Bismillah Khan has adopted the khayalgenre as his chief inspiration for the presentation of raga-based music. The regional melodies that has gained popularity in his native land, Varanasi has been the source for his semi-classical and popular repertoire. The most significant of these have been the bola-banao thumari, and seasonal songs such as the kajan, caiti, phaguna and savana.
Sehnayi players hailing from different regions have been following this pattern. There are certain other deviations also with Shehnai players from the western state of Maharashtra playing local folk and regional music. These include folk songs such as lavanis and natya-sangita in their presentations. These are also poetry-dominant forms that are subjected to the same kind of transformation in their sehnayi presentation as the kajari, caiti category of north Indian genres do.
Ensemble for Shehnai Performances
The traditional ensemble for Sehnayi performance has been determined by its role as an outdoor instrument. It is played in public virtually as background music, and without amplification. Here the accompanying ensemble has been a sura-sehnayi, and a pair of tasa or nagara drums. The sura-sehnayi is a single-pitch drone on which no melody can be played. The sura-sehnayi executed the role that can be compared to a tanapura in vocal music. It helps in filling the void. The tasa or nagara are pairs of kettledrums, played with sticks, and commanding an idiom of their own, though less sophisticated than that of the Pakhavajor the tabla.
In the concert context, the Shehnai ensemble has become more elaborate. Lead Shehnai players are now frequently accompanied by a supporting sehnayi player, who allows them periodic respite. For a drone, they frequently replace the sura-sehnayi with a tanapura. And, the traditional tasa is frequently replaced by the tabula. These deviations from the traditional ensemble recognize the existence of a superior acoustic environment, and the availability of electronic amplification.