Author - ITC SRA
The bansuri or North Indian flute with its pastoral associations and immortalized in Indian mythology as the chosen instrument of Lord Krishna, is one of the oldest musical instruments of India: it is mentioned in the Vedas and is depicted in the Buddhist art of 2,000 years ago. Made from the bamboo plant, it is perhaps the most natural and simple of all musical instruments. The North Indian flute in general is a little longer in length than its South Indian counterpart.
Although the bansuri is among the most ancient musical instruments of India, its status as a concert instrument for north Indian classical music is a relatively recent phenomenon. In fact, by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when both vocal and instrumental music passed into the hands of the descendants of Tansen, whose prowess was on the veena and rabab, the flute had been edged out from the classical music scene. We owe the revival of this simple yet profound instrument, favorite of shepherds and folk musicians for thousands of years, and its reestablishment on the high pedestal of Hindustani classical music, to the legendary maestro, the late Pannalal Ghosh (1911-1959). A consummate artist who's virtuosity was equaled by the depth of his understanding, Pannalal Ghosh single-handedly elevated the status of the bansuri to a classical instrument capable of immense creative expression in the classical Hindustani style.
Previously the bamboo flute of North India had been a soprano instrument usually no more than thirty centimeters long and was used for folk and light music or accompaniment. Pannalal’s innovations in the development of the bansuri included the creation of a longer, wider instrument with an additional hole. This gave his flute a deep and sonorous, sombre yet sweet tone and register, allowing at the same time an accurate rendition of the subtleties and complexities of ragas.
Almost all the flute players adopted the long D sharp flute evolved by Pannalal Ghosh, even during his lifetime. Modifications wherever required were made by the artistes themselves to suit their own requirements.