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An Introduction to the

Carnatic Flute
No part of this presentation either wholly or partially
be used as references without the mention of the
Vamshidwani institution. For the propagation and
promotion of the arts, conditional rights will be given
upon written requests.

All rights reserved.

Ver 1.0
Objectives
• Create an awareness on the nature of the
Carnatic flute & the Hindustani flute

• Understand the basic fingering of the notes

• Understand the major contributions of the


Carnatic flute to Indian music

• Understand the development of the Carnatic


flute
Synopsis
• Origins

• Technique

• Performers

• Survival

• Conclusion
Origins
Topics:
• Early Music
• Sangam Music
• Post-Sangam Music
• Vedic Music
• Modern Era
Origins – Early Music
• Across many cultures around the world, the
flute has been the first melodic instrument
that has captured the imagination of man

• Built with a diverse range of materials from


animal bones, to hollow wood tubes, bamboo
& even metal, every major culture in the
world has its musical origins from the flute.
The only exception that makes them unique
from each other is the type of music that
each flute is designed to play
Origins – Early Music

• Types of Early Flutes


– The earliest known flutes are made of animal
bones and often produce limited tunes. Most
surviving types are found throughout Europe &
China

– Ancient cultures including the Assyrians,


Egyptians, Jews, Chinese & Indians also
developed flutes with mainly wood based
materials
Origins – Early Music

• Some Examples of Early Bone Flutes

Source: BBC News Online

Source: National Geographic Channel Web


Origins – Early Music

• Other Types of Flutes

Source: The Gutenberg Project


Origins – Early Music

• Materials
 Bamboo however, became the preferred instrument
in the East over centuries of evolution by Japanese,
Chinese & Indian scholars

 Though Japanese & Chinese flutes have been


redesigned today with metal parts, the Indian
bamboo flutes remained exempt of such
modifications & it remained as an important music
instrument in pre-historic Indian music until the
dawn of the Sangam eras in South India
Origins – Sangam Music
• During the 3 Great Sangam Eras, the evolution of
Tamil music saw a new peak with the introduction of
ragas, thalas, playing techniques & design of the
flute
• The Silappadikaram is the first Indian treatise, written
in Tamil that introduces the classical flute with such
important details – Kovalan, the protagonist of the
epic is an expert flautist
• The introduction of scales like Harikhamboji, Kalyani,
Mohanam, Valaji & Hindolam defined the flute
fingering of all the 16 notes of South Indian music
that is still used today including the playing posture
Origins – Sangam Music

• The Silappadikaram quotes 3 types of


flutes:
– Kondraikulal
– Ambarkulal
– Mullaikulal
Origins – Sangam Music
• The Sangam eras also showcased the
importance of the flute with its association
with classical music thereby being the first
civilization to use the flute for classical music
in the world

• It is to be noted that the Sangam era pre-


dated the period of the vina, a successor to
the Sangam lute. In addition, the flute
became a standard instrument of assessing
the competency of Sangam music bards for
their patronage in royal courts & temples
Origins – Post-Sangam Music
• Sarangadeva, a North Indian musicologist of repute,
began to read & write extensive commentaries on
Indian music & its instruments with strong emphasis
on the flute

• His work the Sangitaratnakara became a technical


masterpiece of Indian music literature that is only
parallel to the Silappadikaram

• It is the only pre-Moghul Sanskrit literature that is


highly regarded by both Hindustani musicians &
Carnatic musicians
Origins – Post-Sangam Music
• 15 varieties of vamsa (flute) are mentioned by
Sarangadeva:

– Ekavira - Vasu
– Umpati - Nathendra
– Tripurusha - Mahananda
– Chaturmukha - Rudra
– Panchavaktra - Aditya
– Shanmukha* - Manu
– Muni - Kalanidhi
– Ashtadasangula

*In practice, only the Shanmukhavamsa types are in


common use, the rest are either too short or too
long for practical application
Origins – Post-Sangam Music
• After the fall of the last Sangam era, the pre-
medieval kingdoms of South India devoted their
scholars to compile & consolidate all remaining
Sangam literature

• The Cholas in particular took a great leap in


enshrining art by building numerous temples of art, &
preserving important art manuscripts

• They were also the first & the last southern kingdom
to patronize Sangam music in the courts & temples
before being absorbed into the Vedic traditions in the
early years of the first millenia A.D.
Origins – Vedic Music
• The spread of Vedic philosophy from the
Gangetic plains of North India through
conquests & intellectual interaction made
possible for new discoveries in the evolution
of Hindu music by the invention of the vina,
which according to the research of the world-
renowned musicologist of Carnatic music,
Padma Bhushan Prof. P. Sambamoorthy had
its origins from the flute
Origins – Vedic Music
• With the rise of the Vijayanagar empire & the
decline of the Cholas, the influence of Vedic
music took precedence as its vocal music
tradition appealed more to the educated elite
of the royal courts

• The flute declined in its importance as a


classical music instrument giving way to the
rise of string instruments which easily
emulated the vocal nuances of Vedic music
as compared to the flute
Origins – Vedic Music
• In a time warp, the flute returned to its early
origins in folk music while Indian music
literature continued to expand in leaps &
bounds under the Vijayanagar empire

• The art loving Moghuls however had a


penchant for flute music & patronized
flautists from South India. However no
developments in flute took place in Moghul
India. Recorded patronage of flute music was
last noted in Jehangir’s Memoirs.
Origins – Modern Era
• It was only in the closing years of the 19th century,
that the flute gained its due classical status. The
blind musical prodigy, Sharaba Shastri revived the
instrument by easily playing the compositions of the
Trinity with flair & quality. Even though, the
instrument did not achieve the popularity of vocal
music

• Playing on the 7-hole Carnatic flute, which is much


similar to the modern bansuri form of North India
Sharaba Shastri gave a concert worthy status to the
Carnatic flute
Origins – Modern Era
• It was the 8-hole flute which eventually gave a vocal
status to the Carnatic flute which was introduced by
T.R. Mahalingam or better known as the infamous
flute prodigy, Flute Mali

• Influenced by the Nageswaram players using the


same fingering techniques as the ancients used, Mali
created the vocal nuances on the 8-hole flute, &
added the 8th hole to reach the anumandira rishaba

• Today most successful Carnatic flautists employ the


same techniques introduced by Mali
Technique
Topics:
• Basic Fingering
• Playing Posture
• Advisory
Technique – Basic Fingering

• The preceding slides will show some of the


basic fingering that is required to play the 7
basic notes:
• Shadjam
• Rishabam
• Ghandharam
• Madhyamam
• Dhaivatham
• Nishadam
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Shadjam
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played by closing
the first 2 finger
holes from the blow
hole
– Thara sthayi
Shadjam is played
by overblowing, until
a shrill is achieved
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Suddha Rishaba
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played by partially
closing the 2nd finger
hole from the blow
hole & closing the 1st
hole
– Thara sthayi
Rishaba is played by
overblowing, until a
shrill is achieved
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Chatushruthi
Rishaba
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played by closing
the 1st finger hole
from the blow hole
– Thara sthayi
Rishaba is played by
overblowing, until a
shrill is achieved
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Sadarana
Ghandaram
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played by partially
closing the 1st finger
hole from the blow
hole
– Thara sthayi
Ghandaram is
played by
overblowing, until a
shrill is achieved
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Antara Ghandaram
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played without
closing any finger
holes
– Thara sthayi
Ghandaram
fingering may vary
with different flutes
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Suddha
Madhyamam
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played by closing all
finger holes except
the 1st & the 7th holes
– Thara sthayi
Madhyamam is
played by
overblowing, until a
shrill is achieved
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Prathi
Madhyamam
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played by closing
the first 5 holes &
partially the 6th hole
– Thara sthayi
Madhyamam
fingering may vary
with different flutes
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Panchamam
– Mandira & Thara
Sthayi
– Played by closing
the first 5 holes
– Thara sthayi
Panchamam
fingering may vary
with different flutes
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Suddha Dhaivatha
– Mandira Sthayi
– Played by closing
the first 4 holes &
partially closing the
5th hole
– Thara sthayi
Dhaivatha fingering
is rarely played &
only possible in
certain flutes
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Chatusruthi
Dhaivatha
– Mandira Sthayi
– Played by closing
the first 4 holes
– Thara sthayi
Dhaivatha fingering
is rarely played &
only possible in
certain flutes
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Kaisiki Nishada
– Mandira Sthayi
– Played by closing
the first 3 holes from
the blow hole
– Thara sthayi
Nishada fingering is
rarely played & only
possible in certain
flutes
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Kakali Nishada
– Mandira Sthayi
– Played by closing
the first 2 holes &
partially the 3rd hole
– Thara sthayi
Nishada fingering is
rarely played & only
possible in certain
flutes
Technique – Basic Fingering

• Playing Posture
– Posture should be
upright & elbows
perpendicular to the
ground
– Head should be
straight
– Position of the flute
may be tilted
accordingly but may
change when
handling certain
swaras
Technique - Advisory
• It is to be noted that the above demonstrations only
serve as a introductory guide to the budding flute
student

• Only the close guidance of a competent flautist is


important to achieve in playing the notes correctly

• Due to the distance between the holes of the flute &


the thickness of the bamboo, fingering for certain
swaras may vary

• Certain flutes may altogether require different


fingering for some notes
Performers
Topics:
• Sharaba Shastri
• Palladam Sanjeeva Rao
• T.R. Mahalingam
• Dr. N. Ramani
• Shashank
Performers – Sharaba Shastri
• Seated far right, Sharaba
Shastri was the first Indian
flautist on the concert
circuit. By reviving the
ancient instrument, he
pioneered the concert
tradition of the Carnatic
flute & became an
inspiration for future
Carnatic flautists including
the legend Palladam
Sanjeeva Rao (seated far
left)
Performers – Palladam
• Palladam Sanjeeva Rao
(seated far left) who was the
first major concert flautist in
Indian classical music. He
played on the 7-hole Carnatic
flute excluding the blow hole &
used parallel fingering like his
guru which was different from
the ancient cross fingering
technique. He became an
inspiration to successive
flautists like the prodigy T.R.
Mahalingam who was inspired
to learn from him
Performers – Flute Mali
• Perpetually hailed as the Emperor
of the Carnatic Flute, T. R.
Mahalingam revived the Carnatic
flute to its ancient glory by reviving
the cross fingering technique used
by Nageswaram players in order
to execute the vocal nuances on
the instrument. He was a major
inspiration to many imminent
musicians & legends like G.N.B &
Semmangudi, who would flock to
Mali’s concerts in guise to savour
Mali’s divine music. He trained a
legion of disciples. The foremost
of them is Dr. N. Ramani.
Performers – Dr. N. Ramani
• An avid fan of the legendary G.N.B.,
Dr. Ramani took his style &
incorporated the best tenets of his
own guru, Flute Mali, & amplified the
glory of the flute that his guru has
given. He had given many
jughalbhandis with Hindustani
musicians & has introduced longer
bass flutes in Carnatic flute recitals.
So vast is his musical acumen in the
instrument that even his own guru,
the legendary Flute Mali has learnt
some compositions from him! Till
date his performances are very well
received by laymen & connoisseur
alike. He has a strong following of
disciples around the world & has
also given support to vocal legends
like Maharajapuram & K.V.N. His
playing style is very popular today
Performers – Shashank
• A prodigy in his own light,
Shashank stormed the flute world
at the age of 7 & has advanced
the instrument to the next level of
Neo-classical music with
innovations such as transposed
fingering & double octave blowing.
His vigorous vocal training with
the legends K.V.N & R.K.
Srikantan has given him immense
advantage in the executing of the
rich gamakas on the Carnatic flute
very well. Self-taught on the
instrument, Shashank has given
Jazz fusion & Jugalbhandi
concerts with Western &
Hindustani musicians with much
international acclaim as his
Carnatic flute recitals around the
world
Survival
• It is disheartening to notice that Carnatic flute is often perceived
as a light music & fusion instrument. Even experienced
Carnatic music lovers do not support Carnatic flute concerts for
favour of vocal music

• In the past legendary vocalists very much seeked musical


inspiration & techniques from instrumentalists & each created a
unique style of their own which appealed the masses.
Examples include M.S.S., Semmangudi S. Iyer, & G.N.B.

• The Vamshidwani team hopes that with this ample


understanding of the Carnatic flute, more Carnatic music lovers
would attend Carnatic flute recitals & support the survival of the
instrument for the next millennia & beyond
Conclusion
• The presentation serves has platform to
create an interest of the Carnatic flute to all
classical music lovers & to appreciate the
musical richness & value the instrument
possess.
• The team also would like to dedicate the
presentation to the legend, T.R. Mahalingam
for contributing the basic fingering technique
which formed the basis of playing the
instrument as it is today.