The fifth part of our series on instrumental interpretations of raag Yaman features a live concert recording of Pannalal Ghosh (1911-1960), regarded as the first musician to establish the bansuri or the bamboo flute as a full-fledged concert solo instrument in Hindustani music.


After a brief prefatory section, Pannalal Ghosh plays a vilambit or slow composition in Jhumra, a cycle of 14 matras or time units. He incorporates all the embellishments used in a khayal recital to adorn his interpretation of the raag. Firmly establishing the tonic by resolving on it after playing various phrases, he moves through the vistaar or free-flowing melodic elaboration over the rhythmic canvas to reach the upper octave.

The antara, or the second section of the composition, played in the upper octave, is brought to a close and the maestro gradually introduces melodic phrases that are rhythmic. Here, he uses gamak and quick jumps between individual notes or phrases that demonstrate his virtuosity.

Ghosh includes several cross-rhythmic metrical patterns before moving to a variety of taans or swift melodic passages. He intersperses the taans with some free-flowing phrases to ease the musical tension and at times reverts to more rhythmic phrases. Moving effortlessly to the tonic in the ati taar, or two octaves above the middle octave, he plays several phrases in a descending sequential order to resolve on the tonic of the middle octave each time.

While the rendition of the vilambit composition follows the khayal format, the drut or fast composition is a gat or instrumental composition and is elaborated accordingly. Once again Ghosh plays several taans, many of which are sequential or incorporate leaps between the notes. The tabla player often responds with compositions from solo repertoire.

The speed increases gradually, but there is equally a sense of repose, as the maestro intersperses a couple of slow passages after every few taans. The recital ends with a jhala, which is integral to the climactic end of an instrumental performance. Using specific blowing techniques, Ghosh simulates the percussive quality of a conventional jhala that is easily identifiable on plucked instruments. He heightens the excitement by increasing the speed to a point where the 16-matra taal cycle is barely discernible.

This detailed exposition of Yaman is not only a portrayal of the many hues that the raag offers, but is also an excellent example of Ghosh’s wizardry over the bansuri and the many areas that he explored to give voice to an instrument and establish it on a par with other instruments on the Hindustani concert platform.