Catch a flute recital by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the internationally renowned exponent of the bansuri or bamboo flute, on January 27 at Indiranagar Sangeetha Sabha, Purandara Bhavan. The singer surprisingly does not come from a long lineage of flautists. His father was a famous wrestler who had aspirations of his son following in his footsteps.
Hariprasad Chaurasia started learning vocal music from his neighbour, Pandit Rajaram at the age of 15. Later, he switched to playing the flute under the tutelage of Pandit Bholanath Prasanna of Varanasi for eight years. He joined the All India Radio, Cuttack, Orissa in 1957 and worked as a composer and performer. Much later, while working for All India Radio he received guidance from the reclusive Annapurna Devi, daughter of Baba Allaudin Khan. She only agreed to teach him if he switched from right-handed to left-handed playing. Another version is that she only agreed to teach him after he (of his own) took the decision to switch from right-handed to left-handed playing to show her his commitment. In any case Hariprasad Chaurasia plays left-handed to this day.
He is considered a rare combination of innovator and traditionalist. He has expanded the expressive possibilities of the bansuri through his masterful blowing technique. Apart from classical music, he has made a mark as a music director for Indian films along with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, forming a group called Shiv-Hari. He has also collaborated with various world musicians in experimental cross-cultural performances, including the fusion group Shakti.
He serves as the Artistic Director of the World Music Department at the Rotterdam Music Conservatory in the Netherlands. He is also the founder of the Vrindavan Gurukul in Mumbai (opened 2006) and Vrindavan Gurukul in Bhubaneshwar (opened 2010). Both of these institutes are schools dedicated to training students in Hindustani Bansuri in the Guru-shishya tradition. As a Guru, he has produced many noted disciples including Rupak Kulkarni, Rakesh Chaurasia (nephew), Vivek Sonar, Sameer Rao, Jay Gandhi, Santosh Sant and Himanshu Nanda.
He has collaborated with several western musicians, including John McLaughlin, Jan Garbarek, Ken Lauber and has also composed music for a number of Indian films. He has performed throughout the world, winning acclaim from varied audiences and fellow musicians including Yehudi Menuhin and Jean-Pierre Rampal.
Chaurasia is regarded as the best flute player of Eastern Classical music. He is as credited for his musicianship as for his technical ability on the native instruments. A documentary titled Bansuri Guru directed by Rajeev Chaurasia (the musician’s son) features the life and legacy of the Chaurasia and was produced by the official India Films Division. It includes a series of interviews and comments about the artist. The film is narrated by Amitabh Bachchan.