Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music
Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music

The Bansuri - An Introduction

The term bansuri is a combination of two words Bans(bamboo) and Swar (musical note). References to the instrument are found in the texts of the 3000 year old holy scriptures of the Hindus, the Vedas.

The flute is one of the oldest known musical instruments in the world. In its most basic form it is just a tube made of bamboo with a few holes. In Indian mythology and culture the bamboo flute, also known as the bansuri has a special significance as it is the chosen instrument of the Hindu god Krishna, who is often depicted playing it.

The bansuri is a side blown flute made of bamboo and generally has six or seven holes. There are two varieties of bansuri: the traverse, and the fipple. The fipple variety is usually played in folk music. It is somewhat similar to the western recorder. The transverse variety is preferred in classical music as it offers more control and flexibility.

The bansuri has always been known as the instrument of the shepherds and has been widely used in folk music. The status of the bansuri as a concert instrument was established much recently, solely by the efforts of a legendary Indian musician by the name of Pt Pannalal Ghosh.

Pt Pannalal Ghosh popularized a larger form of the instrument with a deeper bass sound and he included a seventh finger hole which apart from extending the range of the instrument, allowed for more accurate renditions of higher registers. One of his major innovations was the adaptation of the classical vocal style and its presentation on the bansuri.

In south Indian classical music a similar bamboo flute is used which is called the Venu or the Carnatic flute. It differs from the bansuri as it has eight finger holes.

Posted by Manu Mahajan. Last edited on 23rd July '08.

A painting of lord krishna playing the flute.
A painting depicting lord Krishna playing the bansuri.

Legend goes that when Krishna played his flute lost animals would find their way home and women from the village would get mesmerised and run to see him.

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