Ghantasala (singer)

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Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao (Telugu Indian Playback Singer).jpg
Ghantasala in 1951
Background information
Native name nimmakuru
Birth name Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao
Born (1922-12-04)4 December 1922
Choutapalli, Gudivada, Krishna district, Madras Presidency, India
Died 11 February 1974(1974-02-11) (aged 51)
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Genres Film music (playback singing), Indian classical music, Padyams, Sanskrit Slokas
Occupation(s) Singer, composer
Instruments Vocalist
Years active 1942–1974
Ghantasala Statue at RK Beach, Visakhapatnam

Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao (1922–1974) was a Legendary and Distinguished Indian playback singer and music composer of Telugu films and many other languages such as Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu and Hindi.

He was the recipient of the Padmashree award, India's fourth highest civilian award.

For nearly more than a quarter of a century, he was the distinguished voice of Telugu films. He composed exemplary music for more than 100 movies in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada films. He composed and sang the Bhagavad Gita just before his death in 1974, a rendition which became highly acclaimed. On 11 February 2003, a stamp was released by the Govt. of India in honor of Ghantasala at Telugu Lalita Kala Toranam, Public Gardens, Hyderabad. The US Postal Department has released a postal stamp on Ghantasala on 6th 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.

"Gifted with what Indian Film Historian V. A. K. Ranga Rao called "the most majestic voice", Ghantasala helped Telugu film music develop its own distinct character which remains unparalleled".

He is referred to as the "Gaana Gandharva" for his mesmerising voice and musical skills.[1]

According to "The Hindu" dt. 11 February 2003 and "The Indian Express" dt. 14 February 1974 the articles sums up Ghantasala as: Such a Divine Talent, who with his songs, could move the hearts of the people. "Ghantasala's blending of classical improvisations to the art of light music combined with his virtuosity and sensitivity puts him a class apart, above all others in the field of playback singing". Ghantasala was "no mere singer" but also a "true poet" who with his melodious voice could comprehend and did give expression to the deepest feelings of love, pity, joy, suffering, piety, happiness and bitterness in a manner no one else could, or did. One cannot help feeling that it would have been hardly possible for him to sing on all those varied themes with such intensity of fervor and likeness to reality, and precision in apprehension, had he not himself lived and experienced these basic emotions inwardly, in as great a manner as any of the great poets ever had. The "Melody King" legendary Ghantasala continues to hold sway over millions of music lovers, crossing generation barriers, with the mellifluous magic spell of his golden voice"[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Ghantasala was born to Soorayya, a Telugu Brahmin and a local singer, in 1922 in Chowtapalli, a village in Gudivada taluk of Krishna District.[1] During his childhood, Ghantasala used to dance to his father's Tarangams. His father died when Ghantasala was a child, and he was brought up by his maternal uncle. He took formal music training from Patrayani Sitarama Sastry, and joined Maharajah's Government College of Music and Dance in Vijayanagram without informing his family. He went through a number of hardships to learn music and went on to become a Sangeeta Vidhwan.[4]

The illustrious/Distinguished Career of 3 decades[edit]

Ghantasala participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942, for which he was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months at the Alipore (Allipura) Jail, Bellary.[5] After leaving jail, he met Senior Samudrala, who advised him to try his luck in the film industry as a singer.[6] Ghantasala married Savitri, who lived in a village called Pedapulivarru. In that village, Ghantasala met lyricist Samudrala Raghavacharya, who was impressed with his voice and inducted him into the Madras film industry. Before Ghantasala found fame, he was already an accomplished Carnatic music singer.

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. After this, he worked with well-known music directors Gali Penchala and C. R. Subbaraman. Ghantasala's first film as a music director was Laxmamma. He introduced the technique of changing the vocal pitch and diction to suit the actor singing the songs. Ghantasala was peerless at rendering padyams and his way with the telugu padyam was incomparable[7][8]

Producer Krishnaveni gave Ghantasala his first job as full-time music director for her film Mana Desam, which was N. T. Rama Rao's first film. It established Ghantasala as a music composer-cum-playback singer. He was the most prolific film composer and playback singer in Telugu cinema until the mid-1970s. He composed music for many popular Telugu movies, including Patala Bhairavi, Gundamma Katha, Mayabazaar, Lava Kusa, Rahasyam, Paramanandayya Shishyula Katha and Pelli Chesi Chudu, and 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).[9]

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 song continues to receive wide acclaim by music lovers/musicians even today. 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[9][10][11][12] [13]

The Melody Imperial[edit]

Ghantasala was gifted with a "most majestic voice" that had a rare richness of both quality and quantity. Cultured innovatively, it could actuate the entire diapason of melody from the very sedate to the vivacious and with radiant repose. He could felicitously articulate a wide range of pitch (sruthi), traverse over two and half octaves and amazingly with the same vigour emanate an amalgam of nectarine sweetness and silken stentor. Meticulous clarity, an ingenious twist in punctuation, modulation and intoning, coupled with an import of soulful meditation on every syllable, both lyrical and musical, marked his singing. Backed up by the in-depth knoweldge accrued through intense training and hence the skill in the exposition of Carnatic vocal music, his rendering was paradigmatic of an aesthetically evocative offering of the infinite ramifications of human emotions, the 'navarasas'. That was the play-back singer par excellence, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, the melody imperial. While he set exquisite music for more than 100 films, he sang more than 13,000 songs in Telugu and Tamil, in addition to many more for the gramophone companies. He lent voice for almost all the actors in the main and the supporting cast constituting a variety of heroes, anti-heroes, comedians, other characters of young, middle-aged and old donned by stalwarts in mythological, historical, folk and social films. Such was Ghantasala's versatility. He not only sang with an affected modulation imparting an effect of the tonal qualities of the particular actor to whom he sang play-back but also enchantingly captured the mood along with the special attributes of the character relevant in the particular situation. With passionate urgency in his rendering, he stirred the very souls of all categories of listeners and their unfathomable yearnings alike by his picturesque visualisation of the lyrical content in the sound medium. The period from about 1947 till he died on February 11, 1974, was a saga of Ghantasala's colossal contribution to the contemporary cultural scene which set an exemplary trend of exposition of both semi-classical and 'desi' (music of the common people) on one hand and the rendering of Telugu Padyam (prosodial verse) on the other. The voice remains indeciduously haunting for ever.[14]

The Golden Age Of Telugu Film Music[edit]

Ghantasala's contribution to Telugu film music remains unparalleled. Ghantasala, was undoubtedly, the most difficult act to follow. When the meters of the music and the beauty within the lyrics were reaching their crescendo from the 1940s well into the early 70s, Ghantasala moved alongside them, lending his voice to the most mellifluous tunes and tones that Telugu film industry had ever had the fortune of witnessing. His voice became so intertwined with the familiar faces on the screen that it sounded absurd and incongruous watching the familiar face mime to a different playback. "Vaalmiki" was Ghantasala, "RaamuDu" was Ghantasala, "LakshmanuDu" was Ghantasala, and so was "Chaakali vaaDu" who HAD to be Ghantasala. No matter the character that was portrayed on the screen, be it mythological, social, romantic, devotional, comedy, tragedy etc. when the prose gave way to poetry and background music came to fore, all was excellent with the world, when the characters started mouthing to Ghantasala's playback. Situation was no question, emotion was no problem, pitch was never an issue and tempo played along to his tune – the film industry was truly lucky to have such a consummate singer who had the enormous ability to evoke any emotion, suit to any situation and fit to just any character – hero, villain, comedian, character actor and such. It is no exaggeration to say that Ghantasala probably touched every human emotion that could be visited within the purview of film music, lent his voice to probably every possible situation that could be captured with the 24 frames, swam the breadths and covered the depths of what stands as Telugu film music. His popularity and his wide acceptance were such that it became impossible for anybody to imagine any other voice resonating in the background while the characters in the foreground went through their motions. True, Ghantasala was indeed the toughest act to follow. Ghantasala had the unique distinction of being the torch-bearer of the early revolution in playback singing, continuing with a great aplomb as the Telugu song broke the shackles of traditional/classical artistry while finally embracing and settling with the lighter lilting brethren. He had the marked distinctive advantage of having proved himself of his classical chops very early on in his career, that the detour he took with light music wasn't much of an aberration in his distinguished career. Interspersing a "madi Saaradaa daevi mandiramae" with many "malliyalaaraa maalikalaaraa mounamugaa unnaaraa"s, mixing "haayi haayi gaa aamani saage" with plenty of "khushee khushee gaa navvutoo"s, blending "Siva Sankari Sivaanandalaharee" with a plethora of "Siva Siva moorthivi gaNanaadhaa"s, Ghantasala sailed on both the boats without ever being questioned or looked down upon for his dual loyalties. Ghantasala had the unique advantage of entering the filmdom as both a reputed singer and an established music director, having churned a number of private records – devotional, patriotic, classical and light vocal during the early era of the industry. "Emanenae chinnaari emanenae", "nee kOsame nae jeevinchunadi", "mounamugaa nee manasu paaDina", "oohalu gusa gusa laaDae", "kanupaapa karavaina kanulendukO" " Raave naa Cheliya" and many such sweet melodies made it into Ghantasala's very illustrious repertoire. Of all the 100 or so movies that Ghantasala scripted the tunes for, many of them went on to become chartbusters and most of them remained memorable etching their place permanently in history. Howevermuch restricted context-based and parametric music composition remains, composers, particularly the ones doubling duties, find a way to stamp the tunes with their signatures that is unique by being an amalgamation of the influences of all the composers that they worked under. Moreover there remains at least one album in the singer-composer's career that essentially defines his taste, branding his music along the way. "Lava Kusa" remains one such quintessential work as a composer in Ghantasala's illustrious career. When the journey becomes an intensely personal one involving stirring of the soul, the music rises above the plane of regular and a normal composition and becomes a full blown score, in that, the movie becomes identified with the music, the music becomes the very signature of the movie. Ballads such as "Sree ramnuni charitamunu telipedamammaa", "jagadabhi raamuDu Sree ramuDae", "sandaehinchaku mamma raghu raamu praemanu seetammaa" poems/padyams such as "idi mana aaSramamu echata neevu vasinchu lOka paavani", "navaratnOjwala kAntivantamidi", "stree bAla vRuddhula tega vaeya boonuTa" nicely sum up Ghantasala's richly rewarding illustrious career. The Telugu film music in the mellifluous voice of ghantasala witnessed its unique golden age in playback singing ever known.[15]

The complete credit of standardizing the worth of Telugu Song goes only to Ghantasala! He became a trademark for Song, Poem and Sloka. His singing did not confine to only Sympathy, Love, Devotion, Sadness, Aggression, and Dejection but also to all sort of Comedy songs. He created a new wave for coming generations. Nobody has excelled in the devotional songs department as much as he did. Bhagavadgita sung by him during his last days itself is a great example of this. After his sad demise, Ghantasala’s Bhagavadgita was released in 1974 which became a standard for the Epic. Ghantasala was adept in understanding the character and rendering his voice appropriately by elevating the situation. It was very easy to act for a song sung by Ghantasala because half the performance was already done by the playback singer! All the actors needed to do was acting for the remaining half! The same point was told by ANR many times. The acting legend always said,” Half the credit for my acting goes to Ghantasala alone!”. He even shows the subtle difference in singing for the contemporaries of that era like Sr.NTR and ANR in ease. Though it is nearly four decades the great singing legend left this World, his songs are intact. It is no exaggeration to mention that as long as Telugu Film Songs exists, Ghantasala’s name will continue to be remembered.[16]

Private recordings and Bhagavad Gita[edit]

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.[17]

Ghantasala breathed life into his rendition of the Bhagavad-Gita and left it adorned as a spiritual treat. His endeavour in bringing the essence of the Gita unto the lay and the learned on the wings of poesy in a mellifluous musical strain left an everlasting imprint on the minds of generations of its listeners. It is one thing for the maestro to render musically more than 10,000 songs in all in general and quite another to import the essence of about 700 hymns of the Bhagavad-Gita in just 100. There have been many who sang the hymns of the song celestial but could not match with Ghantasala. It was amply testified by the endless flow of records and the craze of the connoisseurs who go in for them. No other singer enjoyed such a luxuriant patronge in the contemporary clan of musicians. Ghantasala could captivate his listeners of the 'Bhagavad Gita' through his own style and that of the inherent divine force of the classic.[18]

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". The navarasas of music explicitly found full favour in ghantasala's voice and renditions. The magical influence and spell of melodious music as ghantasala has cast on the Telugu masses and culture with his melodious voice and distinct pronunciation, perhaps cannot be found elsewhere and in any other culture.[19] [20] [21]

Popular Music Director Pendyala Nageswara Rao channelled Ghantasala's classical musical knowledge and skills in classical renditions and in Telugu films including siva sankari from film Jagadekaveeruni Katha, Rasika 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.[22]

Overseas Concerts and Felicitation by Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, India[edit]

Ghantasala performed in the United States, England and Germany, and had the distinction of performing for the United Nations Organisation. The UNO showered praise on Ghantasala by referring to his voice as the most authoritative voice. The government of Andhra Pradesh marked 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 an event perhaps unparalleled.[23]


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.[2][24]

The US Postal Department has released a postal stamp on Ghantasala on 6th 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.[25][26]

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.[27][28][29][30][31][32] [33][34]

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.[29][35][36] Ghantasala Arts Academy has instituted the "Ghantasala National Award"; the first winner was playback singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam.[37]

The Government music college in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, is named after Ghantasala.[38] Ghantasala Sangeetha Kalasala college in Hyderabad and Vizag offers six-month and one-year diploma courses on Ghantasala's light music, songs and music.[39]


Ghantasala was honoured with the "Padmashri" by the Government of India.[40][41] He won the best playback singer award in Andhra Pradesh every year for nearly 30 years, a feat perhaps unachieved by any other playback singer.[1]

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.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao was married to Late Sarala Devi.[42] and Savithri. Ghantasala had eight children, four sons (Vijaya Kumar, Ravi Kumar, Shankar Kumar and Ratna Kumar) and four daughters (Syamala, Suguna,[43] Meera and Shanti).

Filmography (partial)[edit]

Playback singer and music director[edit]

Playback singer[edit]

Ghantasala recorded songs as playback singer for the movies under popular composers – S Rajeswara Rao, Pendyala Nageswara Rao, M S Viswanathan, K V Mahadevan, Adi Narayana Rao, Master Venu, T V Raju, T Chalapathi Rao, Shankar Jai Kishan, Susarla Dakshina Murthy, Galipenchala Narasimha Rao etc.

Private albums[edit]


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  39. ^ Thespian goes down memory lane. The Hindu (24 June 2012).
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External links[edit]