Friday Review

Bamboo to bansuri

Measuring the bamboo.

Measuring the bamboo.  

more-in

It takes both genius and toil to make one of the world’s simplest known instruments. A look at its journey from reed to raga

In cultures across the world, it is that one piece of reed that causes man’s innermost realm to transcend the mundane, be it the Romanian Pan Flute, the Armenian Duduk, the Irish Tin Whistle, the Turkish and Persian Ney or the Indian Bansuri. The flute, since time immemorial, has possessed, deep within its ethereal sound, that elixir which calms the distraught and heals wounds.

The flute through its myriad forms, inspired and captivated the hearts of mystics, yogis, poets and seers through the ages, and for the Sufis, it symbolises mankind, through which, God

breathes his spirit. Hazrat Inayat Khan, the legendary Sufi thinker has beautifully explained how Shri Krishna through the magic of his mystical flute, drew towards him several souls that are personified as gopis, who danced around him intoxicated by its ethereal sound. Even the cows of this great shepherd were calmed by its tone.

But what does it take to ready such a reed? Though not as strenuous as making a pakhawaj or a tabla, flute making requires precision, a fine sense of pitch and a refined understanding of aesthetics, not forgetting, a steady hand.

Hollow, thin-walled bamboos, often from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, are what eventually become the Indian Bansuri through the following steps:

Checking The Diameter And LengthThe internal diameter of the bamboo is measured with a Vernier Caliper and also the length with a measuring tape. The wider the diameter, the longer the length, the lower the pitch of the flute.

Cutting The Bamboo To Length

The bamboos are cut according to the approximate desired length depending on the type of flute and its pitch.

Smoothen Outer Body Of BambooThe outer body of the bamboo is then smoothened with a touch of sand paper.

Cleaning The Inside Of The BambooThe inside of the bamboo is then thoroughly cleaned and the knots are removed by inserting a rod of a lesser diameter through it

Marking For HolesA straight line is marked on the bamboo with a pencil according to its symmetry so that the holes could be made along this straight line. The blowing hole is first marked at a certain length from the top end of the bamboo. Considering that these bamboos are not perfect cylinders, the blowing hole has to be marked such that the bamboo is uniform on both sides. The length of the bamboo from the blowing hole is a little more than what is required for a flute of that pitch as the pitch is determined only after the blowing hole is made. It is then cut precisely according to the pitch.

Other holes of the flute (usually 7) are then marked with a pencil.

Making The HolesHoles are made with metal rods of various diameters. The rods are heated before they are placed on the hole-markings on the bamboo.

The blowing hole is made first and leveled out evenly. One has to check if the hole is not overlapping on either side of the straight line otherwise there could be wastage of air while playing.

Fitting The CorkA cork of suitable thickness is fit inside the bamboo above the blowing hole to prevent air from escaping. This is done with the help of a rod.

The cork should be positioned in a way in which all the octaves can be played in tune without changing the flute position.

Cutting The Bamboo According To The PitchAfter making the blowing hole and fitting the cork, the pitch would be determined and one would need to cut the bamboo according to it. Temperature plays a vital role in the pitch of a flute. The rest of the holes are made based on this length of the bamboo which determines

the ratio that defines the position of each hole.

Tuning The FluteIt is true that one does not tune a flute, one just plays it in tune! But after a flute is made, the first tuning is the most important step as it is the final tuning and requires a fine sense of pitch and precision. If a

particular note sounds lower for instance, that particular hole is widened with a file until it sounds correct.

One cannot lower a note if it is higher as the hole cannot be narrowed. A patch is fitted in this case. The flute is then washed to cleanse it of unwanted particles and stored in a cylindrical container having almond oil and antiseptic ginger oil for 12 hours for each side of the flute.

The pioneer of the Indian flute Pandit Pannalal Ghosh invented what is known as the Madhyam Hole which is also known as the Pannalal Ghosh hole, placed at the bottom. Veteran flautist Pandit Nityanand

Haldipur who is his direct disciple explains that this hole was designed specifically to hit the madhyam ( ‘Ma’ or 4th note) of the lower octave especially in Raagas such as Puriya, Darbari and Bihag where a

madhyam meend ( glide) is required. It can even give the kharaj ka gandhar ( 3rd note ‘Ga’ of the lower octave). The hold too was changed by the late legend to enable the little finger to reach this hole.

“Before Panna Babu, the flute was predominantly a folk instrument having a shrill tone. But when he introduced the larger 32 inches classical concert E flute, people could not believe that a flute could

have such a rich, eclectic tone!

They thought it was some kind of a horn playing!” he says, stating that for Raagas such as Darbari where the lower octave ( Mandar saptak) is explored in detail, Pannalal Ghosh invented another base flute with just 4 holes which was almost 45 inches long.



Support quality journalism - Subscribe to The Hindu Digital

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 21, 2019 12:32:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/bamboo-to-bansuri/article7970395.ece

Next Story