The making and melody of bamboo flutes

The making and melody of bamboo flutes

A flute either reminds us of Lord Krishna who played it melodiously to coax Radha or the flautists who can sway music aficionados by its soulful connotations. But little do we think of the unsung heroes whose skilled hands and ear for tunes shape a simple bamboo stick into a flute that can calm jaded souls. One such person is Ramesh Bakale from Gadag, one of the most sought-after flute makers of South India.

Hailing from a humble background, Ramesh’s foray into designing flutes was not pre-planned. He recalls the circumstances that led him to take up flute making, “Gadag’s Veereshwara Punyashrama, which is synonymous with music, influenced me to a great extent. I began practising flute along with my friends who were students of the ashram. After some time, in spite of the financial constraints, I decided to buy a flute. When I didn’t get the design I wanted, I decided to try making customised bamboo flutes and thus began my journey in the field.”

Initially, Ramesh had to struggle a lot to make one good flute as he did not have any formal training. There were times when he could not tune the flute to the right pitch even after many trials, but he did not give up. He consulted many flautists, studied their requirements and understood the intricacies of flute making. Constant efforts yielded results and the  quality improved over time. A turning point in his life came when his name was referred to a United Kingdom-based flautist by an Indian artist who worked with renowned musician A R Rahman.

Today, Ramesh makes customised bamboo flutes of Hindustani (with six holes) and Carnatic (with eight holes) types and supplies to flautists across 120 countries. Known for his fine work and aesthetic sense of tunes, he feels that making bamboo flutes is tougher than making metal ones. The time and work that goes into the making of a flute changes with the size and shape of the bamboo. Every piece of naturally-grown bamboo is unique in shape and dimensions. The length of the flute, diameter of the holes etc depend on the type and quality of bamboo. To make a flute, he first gets a particular type of bamboo (locally called vaate bidiru) from Assam. The bamboo sticks are then dipped in a mixture of oils extracted from mustard, almond, avenue tree (Pongamia), ginger and linseed for one month. It increases the longevity of bamboo, even in extreme weather.

Then the outer and inner surfaces are smoothened. The blowing hole is first marked at a certain length from the top end of the bamboo stick. Later, a cork is fit inside the bamboo above the blowing hole. After this, the bamboo needs to be precisely cut according to the pitch. Other holes are pierced into it using pre-heated tools of different diameters. Later, tuning is done with a fine sense of pitch and precision. Ramesh, with the help of two assistants and support of the family, hand-crafts nearly 36 varieties of flutes (30 of them are preferred) ranging between 0.7 and 3.2 cm in diameter and 7 and 45 inches in length. The flutes are priced between Rs 800 and Rs 3,000, lesser compared with any other customised flutes.

He has also made a rare shankh flute  and is experimenting with a unique flute, which can produce the sounds of a saxophone. Apart from this, he also makes shehnais. Though flutes are made from different materials, Ramesh feels that the notes produced by a cool bamboo flute are distinct.

As an extension of his activities, Ramesh has founded Bakale Bansuri World and dreams of setting up a training institute.

Ramesh can be contacted at rameshbambooflute@gmail.com or on 8892217365.

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