Indian bamboo flute is one of the oldest instruments used in Indian music—both North Indian classical music and South Indian classical music. In the Vedas also, the name of flute is mentioned: Vani, Vènu, and Veena. This Vènu or Venu is the meaning of flute—the name Vènu is still very popular in South India and they invariably use this name for flute. In north India, it is called, Bansuri, Bansari, or Murli.
Indian bamboo flute comes in the category of non-percussion instruments and has the instrumental classification of woodwind instruments. Unlike other woodwind instruments, or even wind instruments for that matter, it does not employ any reed to convert the breath or wind to sound. This is primarily the reason why it does produce a soothing sound: even the structure of Indian bamboo flute does not employ the diverging at the far end, which is used almost in every other wind instrument.
In India, flute is invariably associated with a popular God form—Lord Krishna–which is actually believed to be the originator of bamboo flute. Lord Krishna himself epitomizes the art of flute playing and apart from the Goddess of music—Goddess Saraswati—every flutist reveres Lord Krishna. No wonder that flute makes an integral part of devotional singing and music. However, due to its smaller size and inability to produce all the sounds needed for classical articulations, it was not used in Indian classical music. It was Late Pt. Pannalal Ghosh who developed long-sized transverse bamboo flutes, which had the ability to produce classical sounds needed for Ragas. Later, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia excelled in blowing this bamboo flute and took this instrument to beyond the boundaries of India. No wonder that he established himself as one of the most demanded and cherished musician from India.
Indian bamboo flute comes in variety of shapes and holes that help in producing different notes. The most commonly used bamboo flute in North Indian classical music has six holes for producing the sound and one main hole (mouth-piece) for blowing the air. In South Indian classical music, the sound producing holes count seven, while very recently, they are also using eight holed flutes.
In classical music, only transverse style bamboo flutes are used, and they are very long in their length. For folk music or for light music, they sometimes use longitude bamboo flutes that sometimes have as many as 9 to 10 holes. They are smaller in diameter and length and often referred as bamboo pipes.
The quality of sound produced through bamboo flutes depends mainly on quality of the bamboo used in making it—of course, some other factors also play their part, but quality of bamboo is very crucial. Bamboo suitable for Indian classical music use very long bamboo shoots, which are not readily available anywhere in India, and can be found only in some of the jungles of Assam. So, the cost of these long bamboo flutes is quite high as compared to other instruments. Suppose if you buy a Tabla, you can spend from Rs. 2500/- to 10,000/- to buy a good one. And if you are going to buy a good quality flute, which is often referred as professional bamboo flute, you can spend as much amount. Now, one can wonder that in Tabla, there are so many things but in flute, it is just a bamboo—but this is where rarity and scarcity of long bamboo shoots shot the price of bamboo flutes up.
The music of flute is sublime, soothing, deep, enchanting and captivating: it has direct effect on your mind and body. If you have even been to a live concert of flute by an eminent and highly versatile flutists, you will not forget the experience for your life-time. It is such an amazing instrument and produces eclectic and ethereal music.