The word bansuri originates in the Sanskrit: “bans” which simply mean bamboo and “Sur” which means musical note. The pitch and sound of the Bansuri depend on the length and thickness of the bamboo used. The bansuri is depicted in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temple paintings and reliefs, as well as is common in the iconography of the Hindu god Krishna. It is intimately linked to the love story of Krishna and Radha. Bansuri is a very sensitive instrument; almost all the delicate graces, curves, embellishments and shades of classical music can be performed to perfection upon it.
Being a portable instrument, it can be carried easily from place to place and climatic changes have very little or no effect on the seasoned bamboo. The bamboo chosen to make the flute must be selected very carefully. It should be neither too old nor too young a plant, of medium thickness, and the stem should be clean and smooth, free from cracks, bumps, holes or other damages.
The harvested bamboo with a desired diameter is cut, dried and treated with natural oils and resins to strengthen it.The bamboo tube is best dried in the shade for approximately one year. Once ready, the artisans examine the smoothness, straightness, and measure the dried hollow tube.
They mark the exact positions for hole, then use hot metal rod skewers of different diameters to burn in the holes. Drilling and other methods of hole making is avoided as it is believed to damage the fiber orientation and the splits affects the music quality. The burnt in holes are then finished by sanding, one end plugged, the flute ringed at various positions to stabilize its form and shape over time, the unit tested for their musical performance.
The length of the Bansuri is normally between two-and-a-half feet to less than three feet, depending upon the thickness of the wall and the density of the bamboo. Long bansuris or flutes have a rich, deep and mellow tone whereas in small bansuris or flutes the tone is high pitched.
While playing, the Bansuri, it is placed horizontally, a little tilted towards the ground. And by controlling the breath, different sound modulations are achieved. With the help of the tongue and throat, the air is stroked and the different sound is produced. More to this, the player has to figure out his own angle from where the instrument is best suited to him to give him the best tone.
Nepali Bamboo Bansuri
Is not this amazing, how a small piece of bamboo, with lots of holes on it, can produce music so divine and peaceful?
By blowing the flute and by moving the fingers you control not only the sound of the instrument but also the tones and pitches. The thumbs hold the bansuri in position. In Nepali folk music, these flutes are often gladly used because they allow better control of sound and tonal variety.
The bansuris are originally tuned to the “divine tone” A = 432 Hz. Therefore, all tones of the instrument sound a little lower compared to the concert pitch A = 440 Hz. This somewhat lower tuning is sometimes described as the “better frequency”.
To some people’s ears, instruments tuned to 432 Hz sound more relaxed, peaceful and centered. This perception also corresponds to number cosmological contexts.
The holes of the Bansuri are covered with the pads of the fingers and not the fingertips. Also, note the thumb position which is very essential to support the Bansuri while playing notes in quick succession.
While start playing the bansuri the first mistake the people face is impatience. After you start producing sound from your Bansuri, they quickly want to start playing. They will not wait to notice that the key to playing the Bansuri is not the ability to produce sound but, the ability to produce the perfect sound. Even if you can produce good sound, stick with it, and go on practicing it.
How to know when the produced sound is perfect
1) You stop producing the hissing sound while blowing.
2) You can prolong that sound for a longer duration with the same intensity.
3) Clarity of your sound. It should be crystal.
Significance of Lord Krishna Bansuri
Bansuri is the oldest musical instrument known to mankind. Flute has been mentioned in the Puranas which were written thousands of years ago.
Bamboo flute is the only musical instrument which is most natural and does not contain any mechanical parts. This is the reason the flute is very close to Nature and sounds very melodious when played in an atmosphere surrounded by Nature. Lord Krishna holding a flute has deepest of deeper meaning it simply symbolizes to wipe out tension and all kind of negativity for peace & balance life.
Therefore, everyone is attracted towards the melodious sound of flute, which is Lord Krishna’s favorite instrument.
How is a bansuri different from the western classical flute?
The simplest difference is that a bansuri is on the diatonic scale whereas the classical Western flute is on the chromatic scale. In layman’s terms, you can only get the seven notes of a given scale in a bansuri (if you are not playing the half notes of course) whereas there is a clean and defined way of getting every possible note of the chromatic scale in a western flute.
Bansuri is also chromatic. It’s just that western flute has keys which need to be adjusted to play all 12 notes whereas in bansuri you have to adjust your finger positioning for same 12 notes.
The difference is in the sound of both instruments. Bansuri even with its highest scale has a more husky sound than exactly same notes of a western flute. If you understand music than you can hear the difference in Chinese flute, dizi, flute, western flute, and bansuri
The main pros of the western flute are that it has a wider range of around 3 octaves. While bansuri has around 2 and a half. There are cross fingering techniques that can extend it to 3 octaves but it is rarely used.
The main pros of bansuri are its maintenance. Western flute needs regular tuning and maintenance. While bansuri is just a bamboo with holes.