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Title: Venu--Rag Ahir Bhairav; Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, bansuri. Label: Rykodisc. Format: CD. Catalogue#: RCD 20128. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The bansuri is a side-blown edge aerophone (flute) associated with the classical concert music tradition of northern India, often referred to as Hindustani music. It has only relatively recently attained the status of a solo instrument in this tradition. Before its introduction to the classical concert setting the bansuri was largely a folk instrument. Pannalal Ghosh is credited with establishing the bansuri as a solo instrument for concert performance in Hindustani music as recently as the 1950s. The bansuri is associated with the important Hindu god Krishna, who is often depicted in the visual arts playing this instrument.


The bansuri is a transverse (side-blown) flute made from a cylindrical stalk of bamboo with a blowhole and six fingerholes (no thumbhole) burned into it; many bansuri have a seventh fingerhole, in which case it would be located slightly out of line with the other holes to make it easier to reach. There is one vent hole as well on this instrument, located about an inch from the distal end of the flute and not visible in the photo; it marks the bottom end of the instrument’s acoustic length. The other end of its acoustical length is set by a wax plug stopper situated in the cylindrical tube about three inches in from the blowhole end. The actual acoustical length of this instrument is about 17.5 inches, a good deal shorter than its full length of 21.5 inches. Bands of synthetic cord are added to discourage the bamboo from splitting.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer sits cross-legged on the floor with the flute held to either side. Sound is produced by directing a focused airstream through the lips and against the far edge of the blowhole. The top three fingerholes are covered with the middle three fingers of one hand, the bottom three by the same fingers of the other hand; if a seventh hole were present it would be covered with the little finger. With all the fingerholes covered the lowest sounding pitch on the bansuri pictured here is approximately F4. The instrument overblows at the octave and has a range of about two octaves (F4 - F6). This bansuri would be used only when the pitch B-flat is selected by the performers to serve as the tonal center, or sa, for the performance. This pitch is produced when the top three fingerholes are covered. If a different sa were needed another bansuri of a different length (longer or shorter) would be used and on it sa would be fingered the same as on this bansuri. With cross fingerings, half holing, and breath control the scales for dozens of rags (melodic modes) can be produced on this one instrument. In the hands of a skilled player this structurally simple flute is used to create melodies that include rapid scale passages and a wide range of subtle ornaments and vocal-like inflections.


Textual and iconographic references to side-blown flutes go back at least two thousand years and attest to the antiquity of this instrument on the Indian subcontinent.

Bibliographic Citations

Dick, Alastair. 1984. “Vamsa.” NGDMI v.3: 713-714.

Miner, Allyn. 2000. "Musical Instruments: Northern Area." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 5. South Asia. ed. Alison Arnold. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., pp. 331-349.

Ruckert, George. 2004. Music in North India: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wade, Bonnie. 1979. Music in India: The Classical Traditions. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: India

Formation: Indo-Aryan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.121.12 aerophone--side-blown flute: the player blows against the sharp rim of a hole in the side of the tube; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, directly blown against

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


21.5 in. total length 17.5 in. acoustical length

Entry Author

Roger Vetter, Toby Austin