Among the many musical instruments, the Indian flute has a special charm to it mostly because of its simple structure and the melodious sound that it resonates- making one wonder how a narrow bamboo rod can produce such scintillating tones. And surely because of this, the 30-75 cm bamboo reed is nature’s gift. The Bansuri or the Bansi and the Venu are two common Indian flutes. The Bansuri is used in the Hindustani musicals, predominant in the northern parts of India and the Venu is used in Carnatic music- very much the inherent heritage of Southern India. The Venu has different names attached to it, like the ’Pullankuzhal’ in Malayalam, ‘Kolalu’ in Kannada, ‘Pilanagrovi’ in Telegu.
The Bansuri and the Venu come under the Transverse variety of flute, which is majorly used for classical music because of the crafting of the embouchure- the position of the lips, mouth and teeth required while playing a wind instrument, in the flute. The other variety called the Fipple is mainly used in folk songs and in movies too. According to Shivadasan, a flute maker from Trissur, Kerala, the Indian bamboo churns out some of the best variety of flutes available across the world.
For Shivadasan, flute making was never his chosen profession- it was more of a late find for him. And what started as a passion did turn his lucky stars. “I don’t have a family tradition in flute making. I wanted to learn to play the flute ever since I was a child and I have always felt a strong connect with the instrument. It was at that time when I dint get any Indian flute to my liking that I learned to make ones for my use” says the accidental flute maker. His strong passion rewarded him as with time, his flutes turned out to be one amongst the most sought after ones in the country.
In India, bamboo wood is most often used to make the flutes. Some of the other different varieties of wood used to make flutes are: the African Blackwood for robust and loud volume, the Cocus wood for vibrant tones, Tulipwood to play light tunes and Maple wood to get the very sweet and soft tones. These woods are majorly used to make the flutes used in Western countries like the Irish ones and the Native American Indian flutes. There are even flutes made of metal and of animal bones too.“Bamboo is the best wood suited for Indian music- be it the Hindustani, the Carnatic or even the traditional folks. You get all the right tones, the beats and the pitches on the flutes made of bamboo. It is just perfect” says Shivadasan, who is also doing his intensive research on the bamboo wood available in Kerala.
“There are varieties of bamboo available in India. Some quality ones are available in parts of Kerala, the Western Ghats and in the North Eastern regions of the country. The quality of the flute depends on the fiber content in it. From my research studies on bamboo wood and from what I experimented in making my flutes, I strongly feel the ones available in Kalikave and Kalpundu areas in Nilambur, Kerala produce the best quality of flutes. The bamboo species available in these regions are called ‘Oclandra Travancurica’. Flutes made of bamboo are very pristine as it is a natural resource. Music too is again from nature and as such there is a perfect blending when we combine the two. We have received world-wide acclaims for our Indian flutes for the quality of music it generates. ”Shivadasan seems to have experimented with a variety of bamboo wood for his flutes ever since he started making his own flutes from 2002. He presented his first flute in 2004 to Dr. Natesan Ramani or N Ramani, the popular Carnatic flautist, who also happens to be Shivadasan’s Guru. “I learned under him during the early 90s. I got the biggest applause for my flute from Ramani sir, when I gifted him one that I made in 2004. He has bought his flutes from me ever since then to until he died. Now his son and students buy from me”. Shivadasan also gifted his flutes to Hindustani flautist, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Rono Majumdaru, both of who had a lot of appreciation for his work.
Making a flute is not an easy task at all and like all the other musical instruments, there is a lot of work to be done to get the best results. “You don’t need to learn music intensively to make flutes. However, a flute maker does need to know the basics of music that is all the technical aspects to make good quality flutes. And again it is not on the number of flutes you make in a day. It’s about getting the right quality one. I take almost more than half a day to make a flute and sometimes I may have to work on two or three before I get the right one.” For Shivadasan flute-making is almost his daily routine and as he says the particular musical instrument is a straight pick from the nature, sans any embellishments or additions that are done in the other musical instruments.