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Gaanagandharva… Ghantasala

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Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao (4 December 1922 – 11 February 1974)

gh-2He was born on 4 December 1922 in Choutupalle near Gudivada of Krishna Districtinto an ordinary family. His father Sri Suryanarayana Rao  was an itinerant singer of Narayana Teertha’s tarangas; he also played the mridanga. He was the first teacher of little Venkateswara Rao. Ghantasala would dance, as a child of six to his father’s singing of taranga-s and this earned him the title of Bala Bharata.

Nicknamed in his childhood as Balabharathudu, Ghantasala developed keen interest towards music since early age.

At an early age of 11, Ghantasala lost his father and was brought up by his maternal uncle Ryali Pitchi Ramaiah.

 In those days, proper coaching was available (in Andhra) only in Vizianagaram As family circumstances did not permit him to go there for further study, he decided to sell his gold ring and get there surreptitiously When he reached Vizianagaram, however, the MusicCollege was closed for the summer. And there seemed to be little chance of getting admission when it opened. Into this darkness came a ray of light through Paatrayani Sitarama Sastry of Salur who taught singing at the college. (P. Sangeetha Rao, the asthana composer of Vempati Chinna Satyam is his illustrious son; he also assisted Ghantasala for many years in films). Through his kindness and as per the decision of the principal Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, who auditioned him, Ghantasala found himself a student of vocal music.

 Before gaining admission, and with it the eligibility for eating free at the Maharaja’s choultry, he had to fend for himself. He did that by eating once a day through the week at different houses (aayavaram). Around this time, a lady from a family of traditional entertainers, Kalavar Ring aka Saride Lakshmi Narasamma, a singer, recording (gramaphone) artist, dancer and harikathaka, as well as a woman famed for her charity, showered kindness on the eager student. This he recalled fondly and gratefully even 45 years later. After getting his degree, Ghantasala got home and eked out a living by giving wedding concerts mostly classical music with a large sprinkling of taranga-s, keertana-s, of Ramadas, etc.- apart from singing at nine-day festivities associated with Sree Rama Navami, Dasara and Vinayaka Chaturthi. As a matter of fact, even after settling in Madras, Ghantasala’s early broadcasts from AlR were strictly classical music.

On advice of Sri Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, Ghantasala began his pursuit in vocal music. In subsequent days Sri Patrayani Sitarama Sastry, believed to be his first guru, welcomed Ghantasala to sing prayer songs at Kaumudi Parishad, a literary organization that Sastry chaired then president. Its being said that Sri Patrayani Sitarama Sastry (his guru) tought Ghantasala his first lesson in Vyasanarayana murthy temple, located on the banks of Nallacheruvu of Vijayanagaram. Listening to many scholars and their acquaintance influenced Ghantasala towards literature as well.

In the year 1941, The Principal of Music College, Sri Swaram Venkataswamy Naidu awared Ghantasala the degree of Sangeeta Vidwan.

Upon complication of his  education in music at Maharajah’s Govt., college of music and dance, Chopalli Suryanarayana Bhagavatar, a renouned Harikahta artist arranged a muscial program for Ghantasala in the premises of Maruti Bhatamandali in Vizainagaram. Impressed with his performance, Sri Aadi bhatla Narayanadasu presented Ghantasala with Thambura (a stringed instrument).

Inspired and incited by the revolutionary fumes in 1942, he joined the Quit India movement; as a consequence he was sentenced to Eighteen months’ rigorous imprisonment. Once he came out, however, he found that there was no residue of the political fever in him.He got married to Savitri of Pedapulivarru. It was in this village that he met Samudrala Raghavacharya who was responsible for his induction into the film industry in Madras.

 By 1944, he was hanging around the periphery, by singing in choruses, doing bit roles. He was seen fleetingly and heard distantly in Nagaiah’s ‘Tyagaiah’ (1946), as part of the disciple band. In ‘Yogi Vemana’ (1947), thanks to Nagaiah again, he was both seen and heard as a nattuvanar in the beautiful song and dance sequence (Aparani taparnayera, Sreeranjani/Adi) featuring M.V. Rajamma.

Then child actress, heroine, singing star and producer C. Krishnaveni took him on as an individual composer for her film ‘Manadesam’ (1949). ‘Keelugurram’, released the same year, established him once for all as a composer-singer, the most prolific till the70’s in Telugu cinema.

He had a great regard for Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry who was associating himself with Samudrala’s film output at that time.

. His way with the Telugu padyam (verse) was incomparable. Padyam was a part of the performing arts of Andhra, mostly through mythological dramas, for 50 years.

Ghantasala recorded at least a dozen sides singing the praise of Venkateswara.

Seshasailavasa, the beautiful composition of Pendyala in Reetigaula in ‘Sree Venkateswara Mahatyam’ (1960). This will continue to introduce to the future generations the physical attributes of Ghantasala. The musical ones are forever enshrined in the musical scores of ‘Shavukaru’ (1950), ‘Chiranjeevulu’ (1956) and the songs in ‘Rahasyam’ (1967) that won wah-wahs from Chittoor Subramania Pillai, a strict traditionalist. It is no rahasyam that Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry’s lyrics inspired him to this sublime level.

 Personal life

On 3rd March 1944, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao and Savithri were married at Pedakolluru village, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh . The couple were  blessed with 5 children, 2 sons (Vijaya Kumar and Ratna Kumar) and 3 daughters (Shyamala, Suguna and Shanti).

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Its being said that Ghantasala named his eldest son “Vijaya” kumar after Vijaya Productions out of gratitude towards the organization being employed as a permanent artist. Sri Chakrapani, one of then producers of Vijaya Productions, presented Ghantasala a purse with Rs. 25,000 realizing such faith towards the organization.

Ghantasala’s first break as a singer came from All India Radio. Later on, Peketi Siva Ram from HMV studios recorded Ghantasala’s private songs. Ghantasala debuted as a chorus singer and for a character role in Seeta Rama Jananam by Pratibha Films.

Ghantasala’s first film as a music director was Laxmamma.. He composed music for many popular Telugu movies, including Patala BhairaviMayabazaarLava KusaPandava Vanavasam,  Rahasyam, Gundamma KathaParamanandayya Shishyula Katha and Pelli Chesi Chudu, also for popular Tamil and Kannada films in the 1950s and 1960s. Ghantasala sang for and directed the music for a Hindi film Jhandaa ooncha Rahe Hamara (1964).

The song “Siva Sankari” from the film Jagadeka Veeruni Katha (1961) was sung by Ghantasala in a single take; it was composed by music director Pendyala Nageswara Rao in Darbari Kannada raga with the mixture of Hindusthani and Carnatic classical styles and is believed to be the most difficult composition ever composed in film songs. The famous Hindi Film Singer Mohammad Rafi, who was a contemporary to Ghantasala, had great appreciations for the wonder song Siva Sankari and also for the song Payaninche O Chiluka of ghantasala in film “Kuladaivam” which was sung by Mohammad Rafi as Chal ud Ja re Panchi in Hindi film bhabhi, wherein Mohammad rafi with pure heart made a public statement that the ending raga/alaap in the song, he was not able to do justice similar to ghantasala. While recording the Hindi song Kuhu Kuhu Bole Koyaliya in Hindi film suvarna sundari the singers Mohd rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, (the original of which was sung by ghantasala and jikki in Telugu film suvarna sundari as hayi hayigaa aamani saage) Mohd. Rafi out of humble respect had great appreciations for skills of ghantasala and lata mangeshkar expressed a wish to sing the song with ghantasala, who politely refused to do it. This is one of the exemplary testimonies coming from famous Hindi singers on the genius skills of the legendary ghantasala

Ghantasala served as the Aaasthana Gaayaka (court musician) for the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. He recorded private albums, including Bhagawad Gita, Patriotic Songs, Padyalu—a unique genre of Telugu, singing the verses in dramatic style—Pushpa Vilapam, Devotional and folk songs. His recording of “Bhagawad Gita”, which he directed and sang, can now be heard daily in the Tirumala temple.

According to music director Pendyala Nageswara Rao and playback singer P Suseela, “Ghantasala alone is the foremost among playback singers who had a full-fledged melodious powerful voice range which could accommodate in uniformity, all the three octaves in music quite comfortably”.

Pendyala Nageswara Rao channelled Ghantasala’s classical musical knowledge and skills in classical renditions and in Telugu films including siva sankari from filmJagadekaveeruni KathaRasika Raja taguvaramu kama from film Jayabheri, “Syamala Dandakam – Manikya Veena” from film Mahakavi Kalidasu. Pendyala said these renditions were recorded only in one take by Ghantasala.

Ghantasala performed in the United States, England and Germany, and had the distinction for performing for the United Nations Organisation. The government of Andhra Pradeshmarked the occasion of 25 years of his film career as Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Ghantasala in Hyderabad on 1 February 1970. More than 30,000 people attended the function held at the Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad

Ghantasala died on 11 February 1974, two months after his 51st birthday. According to his son Ratna Kumar, Ghantasala died of cardiac arrest at a hospital in Chennai. The last song he recorded was for a documentary – Bhadrachala Ramadasu Vaibhavam (music by Master Venu) from the hospital bed the day before his death.

 The Indian government released a postage stamp and first day cover to celebrate Ghantasala’s work on 11 February 2003. He is the first movie singer-composer of the south to be accorded this honour.

The US Postal Department has released a postal stamp on Ghantasala on 6 October 2014. The postal stamp was jointly released by the North American Telugu Society (NATS) in collaboration with Telugu Literary and Cultural Association (TLCA) in New York.

Ghantasala continues to be popular. Statutes of his likeness have been installed across Andhra Pradesh. Every year, the anniversaries of his birth and death are celebrated in India and overseas.

 Various awards named after Ghantasala are given every year, including the “Ghantasala melody king award”. Recipients of this award include playback singers K J Yesudas and P Suseela, and Indian Idol Sri Ramachandra.

Ghantasala Arts Academy has instituted the “Ghantasala National Award”; the first winner was playback singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam.

The Ghantasala Puraskar Award 2014, given every year by Sharan Incorporation, has been conferred on Rao Bala Saraswathi Devi, who was the first Telugu playback singer.

The Government music college in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, is named after Ghantasala. Ghantasala Sangeetha Kalasala college in Hyderabad and Vizag offers six-month and one-year diploma courses on Ghantasala’s light music, songs and music.

The Government music college in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, is named Ghantasala Sangeetha Kalasala college offers six-month and one-year diploma courses on songs and music.

He won the best playback singer award in Andhra Pradesh every year for nearly 30 years, a feat unachieved by any other playback singer. 

  • Ghantasala received Padmasri award from then President of Indian Goverment V.V.Giri
  • On February 11, 2003, a stamp was released in honor of Ghantasala at Telugu Lalita Kala Toranam, Public Gardens, Hyderabad.

 After the saint poet Annamacharya in the 15th century, Ghantasala has been the only singer to perform devotional songs inside the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple near the Lord Moola Virat.

plesantlife offering salutations to Music Legend Sri Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao. May his music always beats and enlightens our hearts.

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