Type: Aerophones > Flutes > Transverse.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 421.121.12
Region: South Asia.
Description: The bansuri is a side blown flute from South Asia found in many parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. It is one of the most common instruments in the North Indian or Hindustani classical music.
A similar flute is called venu is played in South Indian or Carnatic classical tradition. It is referred to as nadi and tunava in the Rigveda and other Vedic texts of Hinduism. Its importance and operation is discussed in the Sanskrit text Natya Shastra.
Etymology: The word bansuri originates in the bans [बाँस] [bamboo] + sur [सुर] [melody]. A phonetically similar same for the same instrument, in early medieval texts, is the Sanskrit word vamsi which is derived from root vamsa [Sanskrit: [वंश] meaning bamboo. A flute player in these medieval texts is called vamsika.
Other regional names of bansuri-style, six to eight play holes, bamboo flutes in India include bansi, eloo, kulal, kulalu, kukhl, lingbufeniam, murali, murli, nadi, nar, pawa, pullankuzhal, pillana grovi, pulangoil, vansi, vasdanda, and venuvu. In central and south India, a similar flute is called nagoza or mattiyaan jodi and Buddhist stupa reliefs in central India, from about the 1st century BCE, depict the single and twinned flute designs.
In Iconography: The bansuri-like flute 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.
The bansuri is revered as Lord Krishna’s divine instrument and is often associated with Krishna’s Rasa lila dance. These legends sometimes use alternate names for this wind instrument, such as the murali.
However, the instrument is also common among other traditions such as Shivaism. The early medieval Indian texts also refer to it as vamshi, while in medieval Indonesian Hindu and Buddhist arts, as well as temple carvings in Java and Bali dated to be from pre-10th century period, this transverse flute has been called wangsi or bangsi.
Playing Techniques: The musician creates the notes while their finger pads cover the finger-hole. Circular breathing as with most aerophones played in India is required.
Construction: The bansuri is traditionally made from a single hollow shaft of bamboo with six or seven finger holes. Diverse materials maybe used in modern designs from bone, fibreglass and a variety of metals. The six hole instrument covers two and a half octaves of music.
The bansuri is typically between 30 centimetres [12 in] and 75 centimetres [30 in] in length, and the thickness of a human thumb. One end is closed, and few centimetres from the closed end is its blow hole. The pitch of the bansuri is defined by the length of the instrument.
Citations: Bibliography: Arthur Berriedale Keith  Vedic Index of Names and Subjects. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 441. ISBN 978-81-208-1332-8 ; Suneera Kasliwal . Classical musical instruments – Rupa. pp. 85–86. ISBN 978-81-291-0425-0 ;