As an internationally acclaimed flautist, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia has played a leading role in popularising Indian music throughout the world. He is regarded as the greatest living master of the Bansuri, the North Indian bamboo flute.
In Indian mythology, the flute is associated with Lord Krishna, whose divine music hypnotised his followers into blind devotion. For nearly half a century Hariprasad has captured the hearts of his audiences, successfully transforming the flute from a marginalized folk instrument into an established part of the Indian Classical music scene.
Unlike many other great Indian artists, Pt. Chaurasia does not come from a family of musicians; his father was a distinguished wrestler who actively discouraged musical study. Fortunately, living in Allahabad, a town of great vibrant cultural activity gave him access to India's most eminent musicians. Initially he was attracted towards vocal music and his early vocal training bears a major influence on his style of flute playing. In his hands, the flute sings out, echoing all the subtle nuances and textures of the voice.
His performances are always spontaneous, characterised by a rich soulfulness and vitality. Hariprasad Chaurasia has never been afraid to step outside the immediate circles of his own traditions. His collaborations with Western artists like John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek have added to his international appeal and widespread popularity.
In 1992, he was the first flautist in Indian history to be awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's most prestigious award recognizing excellence in arts.
In this live performance recorded at Saptak 2001, Hariprasad Chaurasia plays the romantic evening raga Durga, which is associated with the joyful energy and elation of a dancing child.
He begins with a slow meditative Alap, which outlines the main phrases of the raga in a free improvised style. The tempo picks up for the Jor section, which is usually played without rhythmic accompaniment.
In an innovative break with tradition, Hariprasad is joined by Bhavani Shankar on the majestic sounding pakhawaj, a large resonant barrel-shaped drum, associated with the ancient Indian vocal music form of dhrupad. The pakhawaj playfully follows the rhythmic shapes carved out from the flute.
Raga Malkauns is one of the six original ragas as stated in ancient texts. It is a late night melody consisting of just five notes, deep, peaceful and sublime in character.
Indian classical music seeks to establish a close correlation with natural cycles and phenomena and evoke the emotions associated with them. Ragas are classified and performed not only according to the times of the day, but also the seasons of the year, and are rendered according to the moods that are considered aesthetically compatible to them.
The composition in Raag Malkauns is set to jhaptaal, a rhythmic cycle of ten beats provided on the tabla by Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, who is highly regarded for his clear and precise tonal quality and sound production. Throughout the performance, Hariprasad alternates the line of the melody with a wide variety of improvisations, which are skilfully imitated by the tabla.