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Profile >> Pt. Pannalal Ghosh
India's Great Flute Maestro: Pt. Pannalal Ghosh
A Brief Life Sketch

The great maestro and pioneer of Hindustani classical flute music, late Pt. Pannalal Ghosh was born on 24th July, 1911 at Barisal, now in Bangladesh. His real name was Amal Jyoti Ghosh. He was brought up in a family of musicians - grandfather, Har Kumar Ghosh, father, Akshay Kumar Ghosh and maternal uncle, Bhavaranjan were proficient musicians. Mother, Sukumari (from the Majumdar family of Dhaka), was a sweet singer. Young Pannalal was highly receptive and absorbed good music from various sources.

Pannalal Ghosh

It appears that during his young days at Barisal, Pannalal was active in the freedom struggle. He came to Kolkata during the late 1920's, thereafter shifting to Mumbai (1940) in search of better prospects for his musical career. Looking back, the decision to shift to Mumbai proved to be right where his extraordinary musical talent was aptly recognized by the classical and film music fraternity. It was in no time that the nation recognized the maestro in him. His fame and popularity transgressed linguistic and cultural boundaries. Pannalal Ghosh resided in Mumbai till 1956, before making Delhi his final destination, where he passed away on 20th April, 1960.

Pannababuji was an ardent devotee of Swami RamaKrishna Paramhansa and had taken Deeksha from Swami Birajananda (a direct disciple of Swami Vivekananda). He took the vows of Swami RamaKrishna Paramhansa and put his faith in music.

He was an affectionate person and a man of few words. Despite financial crunches, he adopted and supported several orphaned, poor and needy persons in his home, and treated them like his own family members. Because of his down to earth and helpful nature, he always remained popular amongst the connoisseurs of music and endeared all the senior musicians as well.

During the formative phase of his career Pannalal also came under the influence of two more great men of the times: Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. They, besides contributing to the freedom struggle, also pioneered a renaissance in the contemporary music and poetry of Bengal. At Kolkata during the early 1930s, Pannababuji received musical training for two years from his first Guru, the noted harmonium player and a renowned master in classical music, Ustad Khushi Mohammed Khan, under the traditional Ganda Bandhan form of tutelage. After the sad demise of Khushi Mohammed Khan, Pannababuji studied under Pt. Girija Shankar Chakraborty, an eminent musician and musicologist. Pannababuji was influenced by the style of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Saheb initially. The strongest influence on Pannababuji's music came from the systematic lessons under the legendary Ustad Allaudin Khan Sahib, from 1947.

Pannalal Ghosh was a great innovator indeed! He was the first to transform a tiny folk instrument to a novel bamboo flute (32 inches long with 7 holes) suitable for playing traditional Indian classical music, and also to uplift its stature, bringing it at par with other classical music instruments. He is also accredited with the creation of a special bass flute, and introduction of the 6-stringed Tanpura, high-pitched Tanpuri and Surpeti into Hindustani music. Pannababuji's innovations are of great significance because there have been rare examples in the world's modern history of music when a musical instrument was created, as well as popularly accepted along with traditionally established instruments.

Besides, he also mastered the technique of presenting heavy melodies, balancing both beauty and grammar. These raagas are now the specialty of the flautists of his gharana (tradition). Pannababuji regularly and gracefully played the Siddha Raagas such as Abhogi, Adana, Bageshree, Bahar, Basant, Bhairavi, Bhimpalasi, Bhairav, Bhoop, Bhopal Todi, Bihag, Chandramouli, Darbari, Des, Desee, Deskaar, Gaud-Sarang, Jaunpuri, Kafi, Kedar, Khamaj, Lalit, Malkauns, Marwa, Piloo, Miyan-Malhar, Pahadi, Puriya, Puriya-Dhanashree, Puriya-Kalyan, Sarang, Shankara, Shree, Shudh-Basant, Shudha-Bhairavi, Sindhura, Tilang, Todi, Yaman and many more.

He was also open to accepting new ideas. This culminated in creating and/or popularizing several Carnatic / new / uncommon / mixed raagas such as Andolika, Chandramouli, Deepawali, Jayant, Kumari, Noopur-Dhwani, Panchavati (a Raaga-Mala), Ratna-Pushpika, Shuklapalaasi, Pushpachandrika (created by Shri. Himanshu Dutta, Kolkata), Basant-Mukhari, Shankara-Bhariyar, Miyan-Ki-Sarang, Hansa-Narayani, Hansa-Dhwani, Malay-Marutham, Shivendra-Madhyam, etc.

He was a well built, intelligent, creative, sensuous, disciplined and a thoroughly truthful artiste, and it is because of these qualities that he could gather the strength and determination for novel experimentations.

His playing style was a uniform and balanced blend of both, the Gayaki (vocal style) and Tantkari (stringed instrument style). This is evident from his available recordings, and also from the fact that he was very much liked not only by the eminent vocalists such as Ustad Fayyaz Khan, Pt. Omkarnath Thakur and Surashri Kesarbai Kerkar, but his understanding of the Taal (rhythm) was also appreciated by all the renowned Tabla players (percussionists) including Ustad Amir Hussain Khan, Ustad Allarakha, and Pt. Nikhil Ghosh. To quote Pt. Lalji Gokhale (disciple of Ustad Ahmad Jan Thirakwa Saheb), who accompanied Pannababuji on a large number of occasions) said "…Iit was impossible that Pannababuji would ever make a mistake in "Taal…"!

Pannalal Ghosh, as the music director of the dance troupe of the princely kingdom of Seraikela state, visited and performed in Europe in the late 1930's, and was one of the first classical musicians to have crossed the boundaries of India. After joining All India Radio, Delhi, as the Conductor of the National Orchestra in 1956, he composed several path-breaking orchestral pieces including Kalinga Vijay, Rituraj, Hariyali and Jyotirmoy Amitabha. His contribution in semi-classical as well as film music also was equally important, and his name is permanently linked to many famous movies such as Anjan, Basant, Duhai, Police, Andolan, Nandkishore, Basant Bahar, Mughal-e-Azam and many more.

On breathing his last at an early age of 48 years, he left behind a large number of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation disciples and followers who capably represented and have been furthering the Pannalal Ghosh School. They are listed alphabetically below:

  • Aminur Rehman (Mintuda)
  • Anand Murdeshwar
  • Azizul Islam (Bangla Desh)
  • Bari Siddiqui (Bangla Desh)
  • Bhailal Barot
  • Bharat Mansata
  • Carl Clements (USA)
  • Chandrakant Joshi
  • David Philipson (USA)
  • Devendra Murdeshwar
  • Debaprasad Banerjee (Debu Da)
  • Fakirchanda Samanta
  • Gajanan Ram Bhandare
  • Gaur Goswami
  • Hari Chabria
  • Haripada Choudhary
  • Harishchandra Kokare
  • Harshawardhan Kaulgi
  • J.N. Chauhan
  • Shri Jogia
  • Kant Somvanshi
  • Kedar Bijurkar
  • Keshav L. Ginde
  • Krishnarao D. Desai
  • Lalitha Rao
  • Lyon Leifer (USA)
  • Mahesh Mastfakir
  • Mansukhbhai Umaria
  • Naren Kaushik
  • Naresh Kumta
  • Nihar Kabinittal
  • Niranjan Haldipur
  • Nityanand Haldipur
  • Prabhakar (Baba) Nachane
  • Prakash Wadhera
  • Prasad Sathe
  • Rajaram Shedge
  • Ramaprasad Mukherjee
  • Rasbihari Desai
  • Ravi Nag
  • Ravishankar Mishra
  • Ravi Garud
  • Ravindra Samant
  • Sachin Jagtap
  • Sharad Maholay
  • Shreeram Joshi
  • Shrikrisna Khapare
  • Siddhesh Pai
  • Sudarshan Das
  • Sudeep Chattopadhyay
  • Suraj Narain Purohit
  • Surendranath (Bhai) Kambali
  • Suresh Basrurkar
  • Tawfique Nawaz (Bangla Desh)
  • Tawquir Rashaad Nawaz (Bangla Desh)
  • Tribhuvan Gondkar
  • V.G. Karnad
  • Vijay Kabinittal
  • Vishvas M. Kulkarni
  • Vivek Ullal (USA)

Pannalal Ghosh Style Bamboo Flute Designs and His Style of Holding Flutes

As a great innovator, Pannababuji also designed the novel flutes as described below. The flute with 7 fingering holes is played using the finger-tips. The 7th hole is played with the little-finger by a right handed flautist.

The 7th hole for playing Teevra Madhyam in Mandra Saptak greatly extends the range of the instrument, facilitating accurate rendition of many raagas such as Darbari, Yaman, Kedar, Todi, Puriya, Puriya-Dhanashree, Shree and many more. The bass flute also is useful in expressing the proper depth of heavy raagas such as Todi, Darbari, Miyan Malhar, Puriya and Malkauns.


The 7th hole was named as Dhruva Madhyam by his disciple Shri. Prabhakar Nachane, who saw his guru at an elevated musical height, comparing him to Bhakta Prahlad (placed in the sky as Dhruva Taara or the North Pole star).

The 7th hole or the Dhruva Madhyam is the heart of Pannababuji's style of flute playing.

New Raagas Created by Pt. Pannalal Ghosh
  1. Chandramouli : This raaga omits Pancham from Bhairav, and hence Madhyam becomes prominent (Source – Pt. V.G. Karnad, Shri. Prabhakar Nachane).
  2. Deepawali : Created by considering Pancham as Shadja in Puriya Kalyan (Source – Pt. V.G. Karnad).
  3. Jayant : Des ang in Jaijaivanti with Shuddha Gandhar only (Source – Pt. Rasbihari Desai).
  4. Kumari : Komal Dhaivat omitted from Raaga Shree (Source - Pt. Nayan Ghosh, who faintly remembers that in his childhood, his father, Pt. Nikhil Ghosh had told him about this raaga).
  5. Noopur-Dhwani : It is, in a simple sense, Hans-Dhwani with Komal Gandhar (Source – Pt. Rasbihari Desai).
  6. Panchavati : A Raaga-Mala containing 5 evening raagas starting with the alphabet B: Barwa, Basant, Bihag, Bageshree and Bahar (Source – Shri. Sharad Maholay, Pt. Rasbihari Desai).
  7. Ratna-Pushpika : Rishabh and Pancham added to Pushpachandrika (Pushpachandrika has the Aroha of Komal Nishad Rageshree and Avroha of Malkauns) (Source – Shri. Sharad Maholay, Pt. Rasbihari Desai).
  8. Shuklapalaasi : Bhimpalasi with Shuddha Gandhar (Source – Pt. Rasbihari Desai).
Pannalal Ghosh and Indian Film Music

Bengal was a prominent centre of intellectual, cultural and revolutionary unrest, often at the forefront opposing the British rule. The Bengali Bhadralok, the cultured elite had a modern outlook who worked towards the eradication of outdated social practices, appealed for democratic reform and tried to define an Indian national identity.

Pannalal Ghosh was overpowered by the prevailing nationalistic sentiments in his hometown Barisal, now in Bangladesh. He was influenced by the intelligentsia and the renaissance reformers, writers and thinkers - Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Girija Shankar Chakravarty, and Kazi Nazrul Islam amongst many others.

The true nationalist that he was, Pannalal Ghosh got entangled in the freedom struggle and had to flee to Kolkata. He was a trained boxer and wrestler in Barisal and he took up a job of an instructor. His childhood friend and brother-in-law, Anil Biswas, also came to Kolkata due to his political leanings. In the early 1930s, Anil Biswas was working for the Hindustan Recording Company as a singer and composer. Pannalal gladly played the Bansuri (Indian flute) for several recordings and their recording Amar Kare Akul Sur became very popular. He also obtained a contract from Ratneshwar Mukhopadhyay, his neighbour and a famous Kirtan singer, for an hour-and-a-half slot on the radio. He was noticed by well-known music directors such as Kamal Das Gupta, Ranjit Ray, Biren Das, Asit Baran, S.D. Burman, Subal Das Gupta and Himanshu Datta.

Thus, Pannababuji was exposed to the two most important media at that time - records (discs) and radio. Due to his association with Kazi Nazrul Islam, (the rebel poet), he got bigger contracts from HMV and Columbia, the major recording companies at that time.

Impressed by his flute recitals, Kazi Nazrul Islam, who had penned the lyrics for the film Pataalpuri (1935) directed by Priyanath Ganguly, invited Pannalal to assist him in composing the music. This marked the debut of Pannalal Ghosh in the film-world. His next breakthrough was when he was enlisted in the New Theatres Studio as a member of their orchestra by Raichand Boral, popularly known as R.C. Boral. Pannababuji refined himself as a flautist and also learnt Hindustani classical music systematically under Khushi Muhammed Khan, a respected harmonium player from Punjab at the New Theatres. Pannababu was drawing a monthly salary of Rs. 45/- which was raised to Rs. 100/- in the following month as he had earned a strong reputation in New Theatres. Pannababuji contributed to every film produced by New Theatres during the period 1934 - 1940.

Pannalal Ghosh contributed to the introduction of playback recording and singing in Indian Cinema which is credited to R.C. Boral for the bilingual film Bhagyachakra (Bengali) / Dhoop Chhaon (Hindi, 1935). This innovation was achieved by sound engineer, Mukul Bose.

R.C. Boral used to conduct many radio programmes on Kolkata Radio Centre, like Mahalaya, Shivratri, Shriradha, Pratham Divas, and Jhulan, which featured Pannababuji. He was also invited as a solo artiste which was a great honour at that time.

Pannalal Ghosh had become a national figure due to the media of records, radio and films in Kolkata. He shifted to Mumbai in 1940 and his first film as an independent music director was Snehbandhan / Intezar (1940) of the Great India Pictures directed by J.P. Advani. 'Aabroo Ke Kamaanon Mein' and 'Sneh Bandhan Mein Bandhe Hue' rendered by Khan Mastan and Bibbo were hit songs scored by Pannalal Ghosh.

His next venture was when he scored music for the Bombay Talkies film Anjaan directed by Amiya Chakraborty in 1941. The music of the film became very popular. The songs 'Mere Jeevan Ke Path Par Kaun', 'Ayee Paschim Ki Ghata', and 'Pyare Pyare Sapne Hamare' rendered by the singing stars Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani are remembered even today.

His songs of another Bombay Talkies film Basant (1942) were raging hits - 'Ummeed Unse Kya Thi' rendered by Parul Ghosh, 'Tumko Mubarak Ho Oonche Mahal', 'Mere Chhotese Man Mein Chotisi Duniya Re', picturised on Baby Madhubala, 'Hua Kya Kasoor Ho Humse Ho Door', 'Kaata Lago Re Sajanva' amongst many others are remembered for the interludes of Bansuri, Violin, Tabla and Ghungroo. Pannababuji had become adept in the art of orchestration under the guidance of his mentor R.C. Boral at the New Theatres. This experience helped him immensely when he moved to Mumbai.

Most of the songs scored by Pannalal Ghosh were rendered by Parul Ghosh, his wife (who was the sister of Anil Biswas, another stalwart of Indian film music).

In the film Bhalai (1943) directed by Nazir, there were eight songs, out of which six songs were rendered by Sitara Devi.

In another film Duhai also made in 1943 directed by V.M. Vyas, he teamed up with Rafique Ghaznavi and Shanti Kumar and most of the songs were rendered by Shanta Apte, the lead cast of the film.

Pannalal Ghosh composed music for a number of films. 'Beet Gaya Pathjhad Phir Guiyani' and 'Chala Chal Musafir Yeh Jag Hai Sarai' rendered by Parul Ghosh are his memorable compositions in the film Sawaal (1943) directed by Niranjan for Geetanjali Movietone.

Police (1944) directed by Shanti Kumar for Prakash Pictures had 13 songs scored by Pannalal Ghosh. Some of the hits are 'Mere Saiyan Sipahsala', 'Bilayan Se Dar Laage' rendered by Parul Ghosh and Amirbai and 'Aata Hai Kaun Chhup Chhupke Mere Khwab Mein' rendered by Parul Ghosh and Prem Adib.

He also gave music to Beesvi Sadi, a Bhavnani Productions film in 1945 directed by M. Bhavnani. Memorable songs include 'Kook Re Tu Pran Papeehe' and 'O Nirmohi Maang Rahi Hai Tujhse Apna Pyar Mein', both rendered by Parul Ghosh.

The true patriot that he was, Pannalal Ghosh gave stirring compositions and flute playback for the memorable film Andolan (1951). This film starred Shivraj, Kishore Kumar, Manju, Pushpa, Sushma, Parsuram, and Tiwari and was directed by Phani Majumdar for Motwane Ltd.

The film, made at Bombay Talkies, was produced by the distributors of the Chicago Radio PA systems. Kishore Kumar plays the role of the militant hero of this quasi-documentary. It is a stridently nationalistic story of India's freedom struggle, presented through the expressions of a Bengali family from 1885 (when the Indian National Congress was established) to 1947. It has the actual footage of India's freedom struggle. Speeches and talks of our national leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and many others are included in the narrative of this film.

Important events incorporated into the plot were Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagrah (1920), the Simon Commission (1928), Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel's Bardoli Satyagrah (1928) and the 1942 Quit India agitation. Old documentary footage purchased from Kohinoor and Krishna Films, as well as a shot of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore singing Jana Gana Mana are included. The song 'Vande Mataram' rendered by Parul Ghosh, Sudha, and Manna Dey is based on Raaga Miyan Malhar. 'Prabhu Charanon Main Aaya Pujari' in Raaga 'Shree' and 'Radha Ne Kiya', both rendered by Parul Ghosh are appreciated by music lovers. 'Subah Ki Pahili Kiran Tak Zindagi Mushkil Mein Hai' rendered by Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and others is a unique experimentation in Bhor music.

List of Films of Pannalal Ghosh as an Independent Music Director:
  1. Sneh Bandhan (1940), Great India Pictures
  2. Anjan (1941), Bombay Talkies
  3. Basant (1942), Bombay Talkies (Anil Biswas composed the music and Pannababuji looked after the orchestration.)
  4. Bhalai (1943), Silver Films
  5. Duhai (1943), Sunrise Pictures (with Rafique Ghaznavi and Shanti Kumar)
  6. Sawaal (1943), Geetanjali Pictures
  7. Police (1944), Prakash Pictures
  8. Beesvi Sadi (1945), Bhavnani Productions
  9. Aadhar (1945), Gita Productions (Pannalal Ghosh is credited with the direction of the film and music direction is by S.N. Tripathi.)
  10. Andolan (1951), Motwane Ltd.
Pannalal Ghosh's Flute Playbacks:
  1. Meera (1947): M.S. Subbulakshmi had gained recognition in the 1930s in Kolkata where her recordings would gather distinguished personalities like K.L. Saigal, Pahadi Sanyal, Kanan Devi and Pannalal Ghosh amongst many others. Little did he know that he was destined to play Krishna's flute later for her famous film Meera. Interestingly the music for the Hindi version was inspired by the famous musician and intellectual of the time, Dilip Kumar Roy. In this film, M.S. Subbulakshmi of the South was introduced to the North Indian audience by the great leader Sarojini Naidu. The Tamil version of this film was made in 1945 by Ellis Duncan and the music was scored by S.V. Venkataraman.
  2. Nandkishore (1951): The music for this film was composed by Snehal Bhatkar and the flute playback was by the maestro Pannalal Ghosh. All the songs including 'Naino Main Barsaat' and 'Radha Ke Man Ki Muraliya Pukare' became very popular. The stories of Lord Krishna get a divine dimension due to the unique and unparalleled flute playing style of the great master. The film was directed by Vasant Joglekar and the film was made in Marathi and Hindi.
  3. Basant Bahar (1956): The film was directed by Raja Nawathe and the music was scored by Shankar-Jaikishen. Pannababuji's flute playback is mesmerizing in this musical hit. He is at his best in the compositions 'Nain Mile Chain Kahan' rendered by Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey and 'Main Piya Teri Tu Mane Ya Na Mane', rendered by Lata Mangeshkar.
  4. Mughal-e-Azam (1960): In this film directed by K. Asif, the famous music director Naushad engaged Pannababuji for the flute playback of the Krishna Bhajan 'Mohe Panghat Pe Nandalal Chhed Gayo Re' picturised on Madhubala.

However, Pannababuji's saintly personality made him more at home in the world of classical music rather than film music. He became the chief conductor and composer of the National Orchestra and shifted to New Delhi in 1956. He breathed his last at Delhi on 20th April, 1960 at the young age of 48 years.

His pure music lives on in the hearts of his admirers.


Article contributed by:
Dr. Vishvas M. Kulkarni (Nuclear Agriculture & Biotechnology Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai - 400085, India. Residence: 06 Mussoorie building, Anushaktinagar, Mumbai - 400094, India. Phone: Off. (+91) 22 - 2559 2337 / 3276, Res. (+91) 22 - 25560409, Email: Off:, Res:
Mrs. Aarti Karkhanis (National Film Archive of India, Law College road, Pune - 411004, India. Phone: +91-20-2565 2259/ 9379/ 8253/ 8049, Cell: 0 9420482804. Email: