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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Cuckoo’s voice- Veena Chitti Babu

Chitti Babu (13 October 1936 – 9 February 1996) was a classical musician from Bharat, and one of the greatest Veena artistes, in the Carnatic Music genre, who became a legend in his lifetime. His name was synonymous with the musical instrument Veena, and he was and even today known Veena Chitti Babu to the Carnatic Music lovers.

Challapally Chitti Babu was born on 13 October 1936, in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, to music-loving parents, Challapally Ranga Rao and Challapally Sundaramma, who had initially named him Hanumanlu Pantulu, when he was born. Chitti Babu was his nickname at home. In due course, his father changed the formal name of his son from Hanumanlu Pantulu to Chitti Babu.

Chitti Babu was a child prodigy who started playing Veena at the age of 5. His father realised Chitti Babu’s prodigious talent and nurtured it and Chitti Babu gave his first performance at the age of 12.  He had his first basic lessons from Shri. Pandravada Upmakaya and from Shri Eyyuni Appalacharyulu and later became a prime disciple of MahaMahopadhyaya Dr Emani Sankara Sastry.

In 1948, Chitti Babu’s family moved to  Chennai as he got the opportunity to act in a Telugu movie “Laila- Majnu” as a child artiste who played the role of little Majnu. The movie was produced by Bhanumathi Ramakrishna and starred herself and Akkineni Nageswara Rao in the lead roles, both of whom became thespians in due course. The movie was a hit and little Chitti  Babu had also starred in a small role in another movie as well.

Nevertheless, Chitti Babu even as a small boy of 12, was very focused and determined on becoming a performing classical musician. He was inspired by the original style of Veena maestro Emani Sankara Sastry and was under his tutelage, learning all the nuances and honing his skills.

Chitti Babu had a significant stint as a key Veena artiste, in the South Indian Film  Music industry from 1948 to 1962, playing Veena for numerous background scores in movie soundtracks under eminent music directors of the time like S. Rajeswara RaoPendyala Nageswara RaoG. Devarajan and the duo of Viswanathan-Ramamoorthi among others. Venna used to be the main instrument in South Indian Film Music and therefore many of the super hit songs of that period in Telugu and Tamil invariably had Veena played by Chitti Babu.

However, his passion of becoming a performing classical musician made him to simultaneously give classical music performances. In 1967 The then Maharajah of Mysore, Shri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, on hearing Chitti Babu, in an exclusive performance at his palace, was so impressed by his versatility that, he presented a golden chain that he was personally wearing around his neck at the time, to Chitti Babu in a spontaneous gesture of appreciation and conferred the title title “Vainika Shikhamani”. ‘We have been waiting to give this pendant, and the title ‘Vainika Sikhamani’ which was given to Sri Veena Seshanna a hundred years back to some renowned Vainika who reminds us of the Great Vainika and that Day has come now’. Proclaimed the Maharajah of Mysore, while honouring Chitti Babu.

The chain also happened to have a gem-studded, gold pendant. Chitti Babu cherished this because Wodeyar  was known to have been a great connoisseur of arts and music, and was also known as “a musician among princes and a prince among musicians”.

Chitti Babu represented India in various international music festivals including Donaueschingen Festival in 1971 (in the erstwhile West Germany), Festival of India in USSR in 1987 and the Tokyo Summer Festival with the theme “Visions of India” organized by Arion-Edo Foundation in 1993 in Tokyo, Japan, to name a few. He had travelled extensively across India and also to USA, Europe, Australia, Middle East and Asia Pacific for nearly 4 decades, taking his music and along with it, a part of India’s rich musical heritage across the world.

Chitti Babu was honoured with several awards and titles and some of them are:

  • Asthana Vidwan – Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams (1972)
  • Kalaimamani – 1972 – Prestigious Award from Government of Tamil Nadu presented by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Shri Karunanidhi
  • Tantri Vilas Sangeet peeth, Bombay (1980)
  • Telugu Velugu – Government of Andhra Pradesh, presented by Shri Tanguturi Anjaiah, then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in 1981
  • State Artiste – Government of Tamil Nadu – 1981–1987, presented by Shri MG Ramachandran, then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu
  • “Kalaprapurna Honorary Doctorate by Andhra University, Visakhapatnam (1984)
  • Sangeetha Choodamani – Krishna Gana Sabha – 1990
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi award for 1990 – awarded by the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi and presented by Shri R. Venkataraman – the then President of India
  • Spirit of Excellence Award in 1991–92 presented by the then Vice President of India Shri Shankar Dayal Sharma
  • Asthana Vidwan- Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam (1993)
  • Sangeetha Kala Nipuna – Mylapore Fine Arts Club – 1995

He played Veena for the hero character who was a Veena Vidwan in the Tamil film Kalai Kovil (1964). The kriti “Raghuvamsa Sudhambudhi Chandra” (composed by Patnam Subramanya Aiyyar), Title Soundtrack for the famous Telugu classical hit movie  Sampoorna Ramayanam (1972) directed by Bapu was played by Chittibabu aesthetically. Chittibabu was music director for Singeetham Srinivasa Rao’s award-winning Tamil film Dikkatra Parvathi (1974) – based a story by C. Rajagopalachari (popularly known as Rajaji) and lyrics by the legendary poet Kannadasan. A song sung by Vani Jairam – “Aagaayam Mazhai Pozhindaal” in this film was a popular number in its time. In 1979, he had also composed music for a Kannada movie called “Sri Raghavendra Mahime” that was also dubbed into Telugu.

He was a very patient music teacher to his Veena disciples and tirelessly taught playing Veena to them.

While continuing the tradition of his Guru’s pioneering school – the Emani “Bani” (tradition/style), Chitti Babu, created and evolved a distinctive style and identity, entirely his own. The exquisite tonal quality and versatility that have been the magical hallmarks of his style of playing the Veena, saw him produce sounds as varied as the sacred Vedic Hymns or as soft as the Cuckoo’s voice or even play many western-music based compositions of his own. He was known to reproduce the songs and compositions in an almost vocal like tonal quality on his Veena, and evoke deeply emotional and appreciative responses from his audiences, with whom he was always able to touch a chord.

His music could impress the music critics and draw the interest and curiosity of the music lovers, particularly youngsters as well, making his concerts always fully crowded.

Cuckoo song (Kommallo Koyila) composed and played by Chitti Babu was very popular with the audience and music lovers, in which he reproduces the chirp of a Cuckoo identically in his veena. The Composition is based on Maand raga. He released more than 25 music albums (LP Records).  His albums Temple Bells and Wedding Bells are very popular.

Gurvayur Dorai, was the Mridangist who played for Chitti Babu’s 1st concert in the early 50s. Both of them shared very good relationship and they were a great combination for 40 + years. Chitti Babu also cherished the fact that the legendary Mridanga Vidwan Shri. Palghat Mani Iyer had performed many times with him, when he was an upcoming artiste, and had even played with him for an LP record in the early 70s.

Chitti Babu used to say “Veena is my Mission in Life.” Though he was a classical musician he believed in embracing modern trends in music and at the same time adhered to the tradition of classical music.  “Traditions must be respected but conventions can be broken” was his approach to classical music. He strongly held the view that Veena is as old as the Vedas and yet as modern as tomorrow. In his own words, “Music starts with the letter “M” – and in my opinion “M” stands for “Melody”. If you remove that M out of Music, it makes USIC (YOU SICK!)”. No wonder, Chittibabu’s veena playing style was known for melody, who obtained Veena training from Emani Sankara Sastri, whose veena playing style was considered to be majestic.

Chittibabu’s wife Bhogaraju Sudakshina Devi was the granddaughter of eminent Indian national leader Late Shri Bhogaraju Pattabhi Seetharamaiah, who was a doctor, freedom fighter in India’s struggle for Independence from the British, who worked very closely with Gandhi and Nehru. He ran for Presidency of Indian National Congress in 1939 (but lost to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose), was also Founder of Andhra Bank, and then later served as Governor of Madhya Pradesh (1952-1957). Sudakshina Devi passed away in 2011.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that Carnatic instrumental music lovers in general and Veena lovers in particular would always remember Chitti Babu when the Cuckoo ‘s voice is echoed in the spring season.


  1.  https://www.sundarcbabu.com/awards-recognition.html.
  2.  http://www.veenachittibabu.org/.
  3.  http://www.indian-heritage.org/music/garlandc.htm.

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Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 16 years of teaching, research and consulting. 200 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 38 short stories 50 articles and 2 novels published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]


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