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Title: Lotus Signatures--alapana in raga kiravani; Dr. N. Ramani, venu. Label: Music of the World. Format: CD. Catalogue#: CDT-141. Track: 3.

Contextual Associations

The venu is a side-blown edge aerophone (flute) associated with the classical concert music tradition of southern India, often referred to as Karnatak (or Carnatic) music. It is used as both a solo and an accompanying instrument in concert performances of Karnatak classical music, and since the late 19th century it has become the primary melodic instrument used for the accompaniment of the south Indian dance tradition of Bharata natyam, Sarabha Sastri (1872-1904) is credited with establishing the venu as a solo instrument for concert performance. The venu is associated with the important Hindu god Krishna, who is often depicted in the visual arts playing this instrument.


The venu is a transverse (side-blown) flute made from a cylindrical stalk of bamboo with a blowhole and eight fingerholes (no thumbhole) burned into it. Its cylindrical tube is closed by a natural node at the blowhole end and is open at the other end. 

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. Most of the time only seven of the fingerholes are used, the top three fingered with the middle three fingers of one hand, the next four by all four fingers of the other hand; the bottom hole is usually left open but, when needed, all four fingers of both hands are utilized. With all the fingerholes covered the lowest sounding pitch on the venu pictured here is approximately G4. The instrument overblows at the octave and has a range of about two-and-one-half octaves (G4 - D7). This venu would be used only when the pitch E is selected by the performers to serve as the tonal center, or sa, for a performance. This pitch is produced when the top two fingerholes are covered. If a different sa were needed another venu of a different length (longer or shorter) would be used and on it sa would be fingered the same as on this venu. With cross fingerings, half holing, and breath control the scales for hundreds of ragas (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.

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: Dravidian

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


16.5 in. length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter, Toby Austin