Playing flute like practising yoga: Hari Prasad Chaurasia (Interview)

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NEW DELHI - The language of the humble bamboo flute is universal and more sought after than other classical instruments like the sitar and sarod, says flute maestro Hari Prasad Chaurasia who was born into a family of wrestlers and used to practise music secretly.

“One can find a simple wooden bansuri (flute) anywhere. It is an everyday thing - a bamboo pipe with holes to control the movement of air. It is so easy to play. Only Lord Krishna could have thought of such a musical instrument,” said Chaurasia, 72.

“It is in a way more popular than the sitar and the sarod,” Chaurasia told IANS after a solo concert at the Embassy of France here.

There are two things he enjoys about the flute.

“Primarily, the sound and secondly, the controlled breathing by the flautist to retain mastery over the notes. It is almost like yoga. In effect, I end up doing two things simultaneously - make music and practise yoga,” Chaurasia said.

Born in a family of wrestlers in Allahabad, Chaurasia says music has been his destiny.

One day while walking through the streets of Allahabad, he heard the plaintive strains of the flute and immediately knew that it was his calling.

However, he went to the “akhada” to learn wrestling with his father and trained in music secretly at a friend’s home in the neighbourhood. “I was not any good at wrestling. I went there to please my father, but the strength and stamina I built then, helps me play the flute even till this day,” he said.

Chaurasia was later trained by Annapurna Devi, the reclusive daughter of Baba Allauddin Khan.

The classical musician, who has carried the Indian flute to the world, was honoured with the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des’ Arts et des Lettres for globalising Indian classical music and taking it to Europe.

A book, “Hariprasad Chaurasia and the Art of Improvisation”, by Henri Tournier was released to mark the occasion.

The book with notations, brief history and sequence of Indian ragas and raginis features colourful illustrations by artist Sujata Bajaj capturing the essence of Chaurasia’s music.

Classical instrumental music needs promotion by government institutions like the culture ministry “to move to the next level”, the maestro said.

“The culture department should take care of the needs of classical music. They should build more organisations that teach students. Only the traditional ‘gurukul’ (traditional Indian school) system of training can revive pure classical music in the country,” Chaurasia said.

The maestro has a gurukul in Mumbai, where he teaches both young and old students in residency programmes and in day classes.

“I take care of 16 students in my gurukul where they learn Indian classical music free of cost. Their lodgings are paid for. Of the 16, at least 13 are foreign students. It is my Vrindaban. I have another one in Bhubaneswar,” he said.

Chaurasia made his mark as a Bollywood musician and has also collaborated with guitar virtuoso John MacLaughlin.

The maestro believes in fusion music. “People are confused about what is fusion. For me, fusion is if you are speaking to me in Hindi and I am replying in French - and in the process creating a new universal musical language. It is two diverse genres of music from different geography chatting,” he said.

“Fusion does not take away from pure classical Indian music. Two music can play along side, managing to remain pure. I am part Indian and part French. I love playing in Paris,” he said defending his support for fusion music.

Chaurasia serves as the artistic director at the Indian music department of the Rotterdam Music Conservatory in the Netherlands.

“I love to improvise on my music, I have been doing it since childhood. When I play in a school I make my music identifiable to children, when I play in jail prisoners can relate to it and when I perform at corporate soirees - who are used to dancing with popular music - I improvise my music to make it more contemporary,” he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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