Pannalal Ghosh was a child prodigy. He was a great maestro and pioneer of Hindustani classical flute music.
Pannalal inherited his love for music from his grandfather. His grandfather Hari Kumar Ghosh was a multitalented musician. He played the sitar, tabla and pakshwaj. Pannalal was fond of flute (Bansuri). He also learned sitar from his father Akshay Kumar Ghosh. He was taught vocal music by his uncle Bhavaranan Mazumdar. Pannalal Ghosh had a natural flair for playing the flute.
Pannalal Ghosh was born in Barisal, East Bengal (Now Bangladesh) on July 31, 1911. The family first lived in the village of Amarnathgani and later moved to Fatehpur. At the age of 9, when he was looking for a stick, he found a flute floating in the river. He picked up the flute and tried to understand the instrument which produced heavenly melodious music.
At the age of 11, Pannalal met a sadhu who held both a conch and flute. He asked Pannalal if he could play the flute. Pannalal obliged. The sadhu was highly impressed and gave him the flute. He blessed him saying that music would be his salvation. He got married to Parul Ghosh in 1924 when he was just thirteen years. The bride was nine years of age. She later became a well known playback singer.
In 1928, there was big political unrest. Every youth of Bengal was furious and patriotic and joined the freedom movement. Pannalal also joined the youth brigade. He enrolled in a gymnasium and learnt the martial arts and stick fighting. After the training he became more aggressive in the fight for freedom. The British government kept him under watch. At the age of seventeen, he left for Calcutta (Kolkotta). In this big town, he was forced to survive as a boxer and won the All Bengal competition in boxing. He was able to find a job as an athletic coach in a club. At 18, he lost his father.
Pannalal began focusing on music. He was a good sitar player and started playing the bansuri. He was not very well off, and opted for performing music for silent films in Calcutta to earn a living. During this time, he participated in an all India Music Competition. He met the famous music director and composer Anil Biswas and began to play for him.
A dramatic incident made Pannalal a genius. When Anil Biswas was directing and composing music for the great poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, Pannalal decided that he needed a bigger flute, which would be the best to play both classical and light music. He approached an old Muslim toy vendor who was an expert in making flutes. After days of experimenting with metals and many types of wood, Pannalal found that bamboo is most suited for longer flutes. He settled down for a thirty two inches long flute with 7 holes. Later he invented the 45 inches long flute with 4 holes for playing ragas such as Durbari where the lower octave is explored in detail.
Playing the long flute was a great challenge. His dedicated “riyaz” (practice) gave him confidence and he mastered the technique of playing the long instrument. He was so fond of bansuri that he used to make flutes from discarded packing material found in the Diamond Harbour. At that time, bamboo was also available in the outskirts of the city. He also simultaneously tried to venture into playing classical ragas. “He realized the need for meend (continuous movement from higher to lower notes in melodic progression) from madhyama swar to nishad in ragas like Bihag, Yaman and Bageshree. He invented the seventh hole of madhyama. This invention made him famous and he started performing all over India.
In his performances, he exhibited his mastery by playing heavy melodies, balancing both beauty and grammar. These ragas are now a favorite of flautists of his gharana. Pannalal was also ready to accept new ideas. This open mindedness helped him create and popularize several Carnatic and mixed ragas such as Andolika.
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. He served AIR as conductor of the National Orchestra in 1956. He also became famous for his contribution in semi-classical as well as film music. His name is linked to films like Anjan, Basant, Bhalai, Duhai, Sawaal, and Police, Beesvi Sadi, Mughal-e- Azam and Aadhar. He provides background score for Meera (MS.Subbalakshmi), Nandkishore, Basant Bahar. He exhibited his mastery in melody in the composition “Nain mile Chain Kahan’ rendered by Lata and Manadey.
Naushad, made him give his best in Mughal-e-Azam for the flute play in the Krishna Bhajan ‘Mohe Panghat Pe Nandalal Ghhed Gayo Re” pictured by Madhubala. In 1952, Pannalal jointly scored the background for Aandhiyan along with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar.
The great music genius and inventor died on 20th April 1960 at the young age of 48. He left behind a large number of disciple followers. You can hear all fine ragas rendered by Pannalal in YouTube.