11. TEACHERS, styles and tradition - bansuri past, present and future

Once a bansuri has been purchased and the decision to learn has been made, the next obvious step is to find a teacher, preferably to travel to India, settle in one of the big cities and become the shishya of one of the great bansuri pandits. This is fine if it can be done, but it not necessarily the best option.
The student should realise that there is no such thing as flute music, there is simply music, Hindustani classical music, which is played by all musicians in the tradition, singers and instrumentalists alike, so the student can just as easily learn the ragas and their elaboration from a vocalist, sitarist or any other instrumentalist. Of course it is highly desirable, if not essential, that some initial instruction should come from a bansuri player, but after the basic techniques have been learnt, many more learning possibilities can be sought out.
The history of the bansuri is quite different to that of long-established instruments such as the sitar, which has a long tradition, established styles of playing, where students learn only from other sitar players, the gurus who rigorously maintain the purity of their style and pass it on to their students. For the bansuri, there is no purity of style, not even any tradition. Since the time of Pannalal Ghosh, the great pioneer, who had to teach himself, create his own style from zero, and even make his own flutes, the tradition, if it can be called as such, is to learn from players of other instruments or vocalists. In those days, in any case, they had little choice in the matter. Thus, Pannalal Ghosh studied with Alauddin Khan of Maihar, Hariprasad Chaurasia with the sitarist Annapurna Devi, and Raghunath Seth from the vocalist Ratanjankar, Vijay Rhagav Rao from Ravi Shankar etc. There is much to be recommended from this. When one learns from a different source than the flute, one has to find one’s own individual way to produce the music on the bansuri, thus laying the foundation for one’s own individual style of playing.
One could say that the bansuri is still at an evolutionary stage. It just has not been long enough on the classical stage, or had the input of enough players for a definitive style or styles to be created. It is open to both vocal and instrumental approach to raga, and both styles have been successfully realized, but there must certainly remain many areas of musical expression and technical innovation to explore.
One deficit is very evident: the limited range of raags that form the bansuri players repertoire. All players have, up to now, restricted their range of raags to a handful of the easier options.. Bhupali, Yaman, Jog, Chandrakauns, Desh, Bageshri and a few others. It is very rare to hear any bansuri present in concert those more difficult and challenging raags that are the basis of the Hindustani classical repertoire... such as raags Asavari, Bahar, Bhimpalasi, Bilaskhani Todi, Deshi, Gaud Malhar, Hamir, Jaunpuri, Jogya, Kedar, Hamir, Multani, Nayaki Kanada, Puriya, Puriya Dhanashri, Purbi, Shahana, Shankara,, Shri, Tilak Kamod, and many others.
No doubt these raags present a formidable musical and technical challenge, but only when this challenge is met, hopefully by the next generation of bansuri players , that the bansuri will able take its place alongside the older established instruments like the sarod and sitar with equal authority and prestige.


Urvang said...

thank u very much for such nice articles.
Just one request: could u also post some images/videos especially on tonguing technique?
Thank u again.

Niv Murthy said...

Thank you for this wonderfully seemingly exhaustive piece of write up. It is indeed helpful for a novice like me (just about a month old into bansuri) who is primarily self-taught.

Kindly consider posting some technical details about the techniques like meend, kaan and others with probably videos of how they are performed. I have tried to search them online, but havent been too successful.


Matt Dubuque said...

Awesome blog!

One gentle correction.

Smt. Annapurna Devi is a surbahar player, not a sitarist. She taught the legendary bansuri players Hariprasad Chaurasia and Nityanand Haldipur by singing.