ISSN 2158-5296
AAWM JOURNAL VOL. 1 NO. 2 (2011)
Tradition and Innovation in the Bānsurī Performance Style of Pannalal Ghosh

Carl Clements

Pannalal Ghosh (1911–1960) is generally credited with the popularization of the bamboo flute (bānsurī) in modern Hindustani classical music. While the transverse flute already had a long history in the music of India, there does not seem to have been any extant tradition of Hindustani classical bānsurī playing in the 1930s and ‘40s when Pannalal Ghosh was adapting the bānsurī for the North Indian classical stage. As a result, Ghosh drew from a variety of sources to create a style suitable for his instrument. While he ultimately came to be affiliated with the Maihar gharānā through the teaching of its founder, Allauddin Khan, theoretical analysis of his playing style reveals some of the diversity of sources from which he drew. This can be seen at the level of form of an entire rāg performance; form and structure of sections of a performance, including compositions, ālāp, jor, jhālā, and tān development; and at the micro level of melodic lines, embellishment, articulation, and rhythm. At the broadest formal level, the majority of Ghosh’s performances suggest a clear affiliation with style of vocal performance known as the Kirana gharānā. But while the very slow compositions featured in the first metered section of the performance (barā khyāl) are very much in the character of Kirana gharānā, his fast compositions for the second metered section (chhota khyal) were often highly evocative of sitār and sarod compositions. And while his unmetered ālāp and jor had a predominantly vocal character, his jhālā (fast concluding portion of the ālāp) and tāns appear to derive in part from plucked-string instrument styles. Further analysis of Ghosh’s performance style at the macro and micro levels, and a comparative analysis of his style and the vocal and instrumental models that he chose to emulate will serve to illustrate the manner in which Ghosh created a personal approach to the bānsurī through a synthesis of existing stylistic elements and his own original vision for the instrument.

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