Editor's note: The Chembur Fine Arts Society, one of the foremost cultural organisations in Mumbai, is going places with its innovative and pioneering efforts in promoting and propagating Indian music and dance. The recent thematic annual conferences on Carnatic music have certainly caught the imagination of the music-loving public. The last few years have witnessed detailed discussions and demonstrations on the Musical instruments of Carnatic music. The first conference, on String instruments, was held in February 1999. The conferences in 2000 and 2001 covered Wind instruments and Percussion instruments respectively. Each conference featured top-notch exponents of the respective instruments.

Carnatica already featured the papers from the String instruments conference (Click here to read those articles). Now, we move on to the papers presented in the Wind Instruments conference, held in 2001.





By Sikkil Mala Chandrasekhar



The introduction to this paper can be classified in two ways: (1) Mythological and (2) Scientific

1. Mythological Introduction:

Of the many indigenous musical instruments associated with the Devas and the Gods, Flute and Vina are special. In the hands of Lord Krishna, flute attained divinity, similarly, the Vina in the hands of Devi Saraswati. Krishna wove magic magic through his flute. To his melodious tunes danced not only the Gopis and other mortals but also the animal kingdom. This is the hoary tradition of flute in the Indian music. There is magic in the gentle, sweet strains of the flute, as we all know. Whether in the hands of a child or in the hands of the village rustic, the sound is enchanting even in its melodic simplicity. 

2. Scientific Introduction:

A closer observation reveals that the sweet notes were the results of currents of wind dashing against the holes drilled on the sides of the bamboo stems by the chafers and beetles in their innocent quest for food in the bamboo forests. This led to the idea of preparing musical pipes by artificially drilling holes on the sides of such bamboo stems. 

Flute in Carnatic Music

As the most ancient of Indian musical instruments, the flute has merited mention right from the days of Bharata (author of Natyasastra). Great vidwans like Sarabha Sastri, Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Tiruppambaram Swaminatha Pillai and T R Mahalingam have made the magic live on through the 20th century. This flag has been carried on very effectively by many others like T Viswanathan, N Ramani, Sikkil Sisters, K S Gopalakrishnan and others. 


Compared to the large number of violinists, the number of practitioners of Flute and Vina is significantly less. One could explain this phenomenon in the case of Vina by referring to the price, the cost of maintenance, the large size of the instrument and other constraints faced by respective students. Not so in the case of Flute. It is modestly priced with nil or low maintenance cost and compact! It is high time that attention is given to the above so that the 21st century will boom for the flute.


Initially, we must identify the area that needs strengthening. Then an action plan must be evolved. Such steps will not only help the flute to flourish but also nourish the sub-structure of Carnatic music. A simple analysis shows the following:

  • Sophistication in playing techniques
  • Bring in more students into the system
  • Effective teaching methods to be evolved
  • Availability of good instruments is a "must"
  • More opportunities to be given in music festivals for flute

(i) Sophistication in playing techniques

The most important aspect of flute playing technique that easily reaches and is also recognized by the public is the "blowing technique" and the "tone" produced in the instrument. Even a simple song can sound extremely soothing and effective if the tone and the blowing is proficient. We have ample examples to substantiate this point in Sri Mali's music which is nothing but "sheer magic". It is not "what" is played that is important, it is "how" it is played.

(ii) Bring in more students into the system

As the flute is endowed naturally with a very beautiful and attractive sound, even basic lessons sound very pleasing to the ears. Also with persistent practice, a student can attain a certain amount of proficiency in about three years. It is necessary that vidwans who have attained a certain stature, along with  their senior disciples, must bring in more students.

(iii) Effective teaching methods to be evolved

Teachers could use a few guidelines while initiating a student into the art of flute playing:

(a) Not being too strict initially about perfection in blowing because these are things that get better with time and experience.
(b) Giving new exercises for improved fingering techniques and clarity of expression apart from the usual lessons.
(c) Providing opportunities for the student to listen to different schools of playing. 
(d) Making teaching more methodical. With more and more competent students, the probability of some of those endowed with natural talent turning out to be maestros will certainly increase and it is the maestros who cast the spell of magic through their music. The magic is born thus. 

(iv) Availability of good instrument is a "must"

Here are the key words are "easy" and "good".

(a) 'Easy' must be read in a larger context to convey the ease with which a flute could be purchased.
(b) 'Good quality' flute can only be made by good manufacturing techniques. In the 21st century, 20th century technique may become obsolete! Will the manufactures take note? Frankly, I feel many of the keen students, who have an engineering background and technological capabilities, must come forward to transform the industry. 

(v)  More opportunities to be given in music festivals for flute

If the real magic of the flute must float in the air, more flute concerts should be promoted and opportunities to talented artistes must be given. There must be no restrictions such as "only one flute concert per series". Again it is not how many concerts but the number of good concerts which is important. 


Unfortunately, competent artistes cannot be mass produced. The grace of Lord Krishna is required to transform a student into an [excellent] artiste. A prodigy is, of course, one who is born with basic trait. Competence, however can be infused in committed learners by training. Once competent, such artistes can express their individuality which will show as their stamp during rendering. As more and more competent flutists come up on the concert platform, their distinctive styles [bani] will slowly mesmerise listeners into asking for more. The magic will thus be spread.


Posted on May 9, 2002

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