The Indian flute has a very important place in Indian classical music. Developed independently of the Western flute, the flutes in India are very simple as compared to their Western counterparts. The famous and very popular Hindu God Krishna is traditionally believed to be a master of the Bansuri or Indian bamboo flute.
Indian flutes are made of bamboo and are keyless. One of the legendary Indian flute players, Pannalal Ghosh, was the first to change a tiny folk instrument to a bamboo flute appropriate for playing traditional Indian classical music. This placed the Indian flute equal to the stature of other classical music instruments. The extra hole allowed the madhyam to be played, facilitating the meends in numerous traditional ragas.
Pandit Raghunath Prasanna, another well known Indian flute player developed different methods in the realm of the Indian flute, so as to devotedly replicate the subtleties and shades of the Indian classical music. He was primarily responsible for providing a powerful base to his Gharana by training his own family members. Pt. Bhola nath Prasanna, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pt. Rajendra Prasanna are some of the disciples of the family who are world famous for their Indian flute music.
There are standard pitches available for the Indian concert flutes. For example, in Carnatic music, the pitches are referred by numbers such as 1 , 1-1/2 , 2 , 2-1/2 , 3, 4 , 4-1/2 etc; However, as the pitch of a composition is not set permanent, therefore, any of the Indian flutes may be used for the concert. The choice is left largely to the personal choice of the flute players.
Today, you will come across two main kinds of flutes in India. The first, known as Bansuri, has six finger holes and one embouchure hole. This Indian bamboo flute used mostly in the Hindustani music of Northern India. The second, the Venu, has eight finger holes, and is played largely in the Carnatic music of Southern India. Currently, the eight-holed Indian flute is common among many Carnatic flute players. The cross-fingering technique was introduced by T. R. Mahalingam in the mid-20th century and was later developed by other flute players like BN Suresh and Dr. N Ramani. Earlier, the South Indian flute had only seven finger holes.
The quality of the Indian flute music depends to some extent on the specific bamboo used to make it. It is commonly believed that the best bamboo to make the Indian flutes grows in the Nagercoil area in South India.