A consummate artist who's virtuosity was equaled by the depth of his understanding, Pandit Pannalal Ghosh singlehandedly elevated the status of the bansuri to that of an instrument capable of expressing the sublime and wondrous nature of the Hindustani classical vocal style.

Pt. Pannalal Ghosh performing Raag Deepawali
  • Pt. Pannalal Ghosh - Raag Deepavali
    Pt. Nikhil Ghosh - tabla
    Drut (fast) Teental (16 beats)
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh in performance
  • Raag Shree: Vilambit (slow) Tilwara Tal (16 beats) followed by Drut (fast) Teental (16 beats)
  • Pt. Pannalal Ghosh - Youtube Playlist
  • Pt. Pannalal Ghosh - Curated Playlist
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh in recording studio
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh in recording studio
Born in Barisal, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) on July 24, 1911, Amal-Jyoti Ghosh (nicknamed Pannalal) was a child prodigy. He inherited his love of music and the bamboo flute (bansuri) from his grandfather, HarKumar Ghosh who played sitar, tabla,and pakhawaj and learned sitar from his father, Akshay Kumar Ghosh. He also learned music from his maternal uncle, Bhavaranjan Mazumdar who was a vocalist. Pannalal Ghosh's mother, Sukumari Ghosh, was herself a very talented singer.

The family first lived in the village of Amanatganj (near Barisal, a city in south-central Bangladesh) and later moved to the town of Fatehpur in Satkhira District in south-western Bangladesh.

Two apocryphal incidents happened to young Pannalal which had an influential bearing on his later life. First, at age 9 while looking for a stick, Pannalal found a flute floating in the river. He retrieved the instrument and so began his lifelong relationship with the bansuri. Two years later, when Pannalal had gone to the cremation ground to attend the last rites of one of his school teachers he met a sadhu who held both a conch and a flute. The sadhu asked Pannalal if he could play the flute, and young Pannalal obliged. The sadhu gave him the flute and told the boy that music would be his salvation. This removed the doubt from the mind of young Pannalal and he selected Flute as his main instrument.
A Youthful Panna Babu

A Youthful Panna Babu

A Youthful Panna Babu
There was a political unrest in 1928, and every youth was possessed with the freedom movement. Pannalal also joined this freedom movement. He enrolled in a gymnasium where he learned martial arts, boxing, and stick fighting and practiced physical culture. Pannalal was very fond of physical culture. He became the best student and champion of this gymnasium. He became more involved in the freedom movement and the British Government started keeping a watch on his movements. So at the age of seventeen Pannalal left Barisal and went to Calcutta in search of livelihood. Pannalal came to Calcutta to stay with his elder sister, Parimal Kana Roy, who was an accomplished singer, and her husband, Lalit Chandra Roy, who was a very good boxer. They both practiced boxing together. Pannalal was then working for the "Prabashi" press (a respected Bengali literary magazine). In the teeming metropolis he found himself without any credentials except that he was a boxing champion and had won the All Bengal competition in boxing. One year later, at the age of 18, Pannnalal lost his father. With his skill as a boxer and martial art expert, he later landed a job as a coach in an athletic club in Calcutta.
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh in recording studio
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh in recording studio
At this time Pannalal, who was already playing sitar, began to focus his attention on bansuri. Economic necessity drove him into performing music for the silent films in Calcutta. After a few years, he brought Anil Biswas, who was a great friend since his chilhood in Barisal, to Calcutta, to stay with him in the same house. Anil Biswas was a very good singer and composer. Pannalal began to play in his musical productions. It was during one such production when Anil Biswas was directing music for a dramatization of a work by the renowned poet Kazi Nazrul Islam that Pannalal decided that he needed a bigger flute who's pitch and sonority would be more appropriate for both classical and light music.
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh accompanied on tabla by Ustad Shamshuddin Khan

Pt. Pannalal Ghosh accompanied on tabla by Ustad Shamshuddin Khan

Pt. Pannalal Ghosh accompanied by Ustad Shamshuddin Khan
He met an old Muslim toy vendor who was also proficient in making flutes. With his help Pannalal experimented with various materials including metal and other types of wood, but decided bamboo was still the most suitable medium for a larger instrument. He finally settled on a bansuri which was thirty two inches long, with a Sa (tonic) at Kali "Do" (the second black key on the old harmonium scale = ~ D#). As a flute of this size was hitherto unknown, a rumor arose that Pannalal had had surgery to cut the webbing between his fingers to facilitate the large span required to cover the finger holes of the instrument. Of course, he had no such surgery, but through dedicated riyaz (practice), Pannalal invented and perfected the technique to play the large instrument. At this time he would get his bamboo to make flutes from discarded packing materials found at Diamond Harbor, the large port of Calcutta. Deforestation had not yet consumed the forest around Calcutta, and the bamboo was believed to have grown close to the city itself. He practiced hard and perfected the technique of vocal music on flute. At this time he realized the need for meend from madhyama swar to nishad or dhaivat shrutis in ragas like Bihag, Yaman, Bageshree and many others. He experimented and invented the seventh hole of madhyama.
Pannalal Ghosh performing in Mumbai with his disciples Rasbihari Desai on bansuri and V.G. Karnad - tanpura
Pannalal Ghosh performing in Mumbai with his disciples Rasbihari Desai on bansuri and V.G. Karnad - tanpura
He became famous for his flute playing and started getting performances at the major music conferences. At this time he came in close contact with great maestros like Ustad Inayat Khan (sitar), Ustad Dabir Khan (Been), Ustad Amir Khan (sarod), Ustad Badal Khan (sarangi), and vocalists such as Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Majid Khan, Pt. Tarapoda Chakraborty, Pt. Bhismadev Chattopadhyay and many others. His quest for knowledge and purity of tradition made him acquire intricacies of music from these erudite musicians.
Pannalal Ghosh and wife Parul Ghosh

Pannalal Ghosh and wife Parul Ghosh

Pannalal Ghosh and wife Parul Ghosh.
In 1936 Pannalal began working with Rai Chand Boral, music director of the well known 'New Theatres' and one year later he met his first guru, Kushi Mohammed Khan - the 'Harmonium Wizard'. In 1938 as music director of the dance troupe of the princely kingdom of Seraikella State, Panna Babu (as he was affectionately known) was one of the first classical musicians to visit and perform in Europe, which he found rather agitating and unsettling. Soon after his return to India his guru expired. Thereafter he underwent training from Girija Shankar Chakravarti. In 1940, Pannalal moved to Bombay on the advice of his first disciple Haripada Choudhary (who had himself recently moved to Bombay). There he joined the Bombay Talkies film studio and gave music to quite a few popular films including 'Basant' (1942) in collaboration with composer Anil Biswas. Panna Babu's wife, Parul Biswas, (sister of Anil Biswas), was a graceful singer of kirtans who became one of the first well known playback singers for the new 'talking' films.
Pannalal Ghosh with his guru Ustad Allaudin Khan

Pannalal Ghosh with his guru Ustad Allaudin Khan

Pannalal Ghosh with his guru Allaudin Khan
Pannalal first met the legendary Ustad Allaudin Khansahib, (reverentialy known as 'Baba') in 1946, when Baba came to Bombay with his disciple, Pandit Ravi Shankar. Initially, when Pannalal asked Baba to teach him Khansaheb replied, "You are already well-known, you don't need to study more." Pannalal implored Baba to please teach him so that he could learn "authentic music and sur." In 1947, Pannalal's lifelong yearning to learn music from a true guru was fulfilled when Allaudin Khansaheb, convinced of Pannalal's sincerity to learn, accepted Pannalal as his disciple. Pannalal then accompanied Baba to his home in Maihar, where he received intensive taalim (training) from Khansaheb for some time. Under Baba's firm yet understanding tutelage, he blossomed into the wizard of the bamboo reed.
Pannalal Ghosh with disciple & son-in-law Devendra Murdeshwar at AIR

Pannalal Ghosh with disciple & son-in-law Devendra Murdeshwar at AIR

Pannalal Ghosh with disciple and son-in-law Devendra Murdeshwar at AIR
Panna Babu earned fame through his regular broadcasts on AIR (All India Radio) and his many live performances at music festivals throughout India. He was often accompanied on tabla by his younger brother Pt. Nikhil Ghosh, father of renowned musicians Nayan (sitar, tabla) and Druba (sarangi). The eminent vocalists Ustad Faiyaz Khan and Pandit Omkarnath Thakur appreciated his music very much and requested Pannalal to accompany their vocal recitals on bansuri. He was praised for his adaptation and rendering on the bansuri of the khayal-ang-gayaki (the classical vocal style), particularly influenced by the great master of the Kirana gharana, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Pannalal also incorporated alap, dhrupad-ang-gayaki, tantrakari, jhala, thumri, dadra and folk music into his performance style on bansuri. Well versed in tabla and rhythm, he would perform in such difficult tals as jhoomra and tilwara. His music was steeped in devotion and had an intangible ethereal element, immense emotional depth and was infused with spiritual profundity.
Pannalal Ghosh playing his bass bansuri with Devendra Murdeshwar accompanying.

Pannalal Ghosh playing his bass bansuri with Devendra Murdeshwar accompanying.

Pannalal Ghosh playing his bass bansuri with Devendra Murdeshwar accompanying
In addition to introducing the larger instrument, Pannalal Ghosh is credited with inventing the bass bansuri and introducing the six-stringed tanpura, and popularizing the high-pitched tanpuri and the surpeti or sruti box into Hindustani music. He created and/or popularized several new ragas including Deepawali, Pushpachandrika, Ratna-Pushpika, Chandramauli, Panchavati and Noopurdwani (composed in memory of his second daughter, who tragically died in infancy in 1951), as well as multitudinous vilambit and drut compositions in many well known and rare ragas.
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh in reflection
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh in reflection
Panna Babu practiced daily meditation and observed maun by not speaking on Thursdays. He took the vows of Ramakrishna and put his faith in music. He took Mantra Diksha from Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj who was a direct disciple of Swami Vivekananda. Because of his intense spiritual practice he started losing interest in day to day life and decided to take Sanyasa. When he expressed his desire to Swamiji, his Guru, he was told that he would attain Moksha through music only. He should practice music as religiously as his spiritual practice. His music showed total spirituality, simplicity and purity.
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh LP Ragas Yaman and Shree cover
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh LP Ragas Yaman and Shree cover
Pannalal continued composing and recording music for films, but began to find film work distasteful. Panna Babu's impressive rendition of Raga Darbari Kannada in his 1956 National Programme broadcast from AIR Delhi fetched him further acclaim and at this time Dr. B.V. Keskar (then Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting), implored him to accept the meritorious post of composer-conductor of the Indian National Orchestra and producer for AIR Delhi. He held the post and maintained his devotion to the interpretation of classical music on the bamboo flute until his untimely and sudden death due to heart attack at the age of 48 (three months short of his 49th birthday) on April 20, 1960 in New Delhi.
Pannalal Ghosh with disciples V.G. Karnad, Devendra Murdeshwar and ?
Pannalal Ghosh with disciples in Mumbai
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh and his disciples V. G. Karnad, Devendra Murdeshwar and ?
Pt. Pannalal Ghosh with his students in Mumbai.
Babuji left his musical legacy in the capable hands of his disciples, most notably the late Pt. Devendra Murdeshwar, Pt. V.G. Karnad and Pt. Nityanand Haldipur. Mention should also be made of late Shree Anand Murdeshwar, son of Devendra and grandson of Pannababu. Anand was a very fine artist on bansuri who sadly passed away at a very young age in the early 2000's. View Anand Murdeshwar's bansuri recital from 1994.

Pannalal Ghosh’s students in Calcutta included Haripada Choudhary, Aminur Rehman (MintuDa), Fakirchanda Samanta, Sudhanshu Choudhury, Mukul Roy and Gaur Goswami.

The students in Bombay included Tribhuvan Gondkar, Rasbihari Desai, Devendra Murdeshwar, V.G. Karnad, Chandrakant Joshi, Mohan Nadkarni, Prabhakar Nachane, Niranjan Haldipur, Nityanand Haldipur, Krishnarao D. Desai, Ramaprasad Mukherjee, Mahesh Mastfakir, Sharad Maholay, Bhailal Barot, Suraj Narain Purohit, and Hari Chabria.

(This bio is based on the original article by Pt. V.G. Karnad, with additional information from Pt. Nityanand Haldipur, Smt. Madhuwanti Basu (great grand niece of Pt. Pannalal Ghosh) and Dr. Vishvas M. Kulkarni. Last updated 10.28.16)
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