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Saturday, June 10, 2023

His majestic voice- Ghantasala

Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao was born in Choutapalli village, near Gudivada, Andhra Pradesh on 4th December, 1922. His father Gantasala Surayya was a classical singer. He lost his father in his childhood, and was brought up his maternal uncle Ryali Pitchi Ramaiah.

In 1936 at the age of 14 years he left the house without informing his elders and went to Vizianagaram. He had formal classical music training from Sri Patraayani Sitarama Sastri, also known as Saaluuru Chinna Guruvu Garu, and he joined the famous Maharaja Music College in Viziayanagram where Sri Patraayani Sitarama Saaastri was music teacher. The legendary Violin maestro Dwaram Venkata Swamy Naidu was the Principal of the Music College at that time.  

During his stay in Vizianagaram (1936-1942) along with the Carnatic music, Ghantasala also had the opportunity to observe and learn the nuances of other forms of music like folk music, burrakatha (an oral story telling technique popular in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), harikatha (art of storytelling accompanied with music and dance), drama and tolubommalata (puppetry).

In 1942 when the Music College had summer vacation, Ghantasala left Vizianagaram for home town. He was attracted towards the Quit India movement. His active participation in Quit India movement by singing patriotic songs and mobilising the crowd in support of the movement made the then British Government to jail him for 18 months (initially in Kaikaluru jail and thereafter at Alipore Jail, Bellari.)

During his stay in the jail Ghantasala had the opportunity to meet and interact with eminent personalities and freedom fighters like- Bezawada Gopala Reddy, Potti Sreeramulu, Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, Bulusu Sambamurthy, Erneni Subramanyam among others. On 18th July, 1942 Ghantasala got his diploma in music from Maharaja’s Music College, Vizianagaram.

After release from the jail Ghantasala started giving music concerts and acted as stage artist in several dramas in and around his native place. On 3 rd March, 1944 he was married to Savitri. Samudrala Raghavachari, famous Telugu film writer encouraged Ghantasala to enter the Telugu film industry as singer in Madras (now known as Chennai).  All India Radio, Madras (Balantrapu Rajanikantha Rao) gave him his first break as a singer when HMV rejected him. Later on, Peketi Siva Ram from HMV recorded Ghantasala’s private songs in 1945.

Ghantasala sang chorus and acted in a small role in the Telugu film “Seetha Rama Jananam” in 1944. He made his playback debut in 1945 and sang along with Smt. Bhanumathi Ramakrishna in the film “Swarga Seema”. This film was directed by the famous director B.N. Reddy. Thereafter there was no looking back for Ghantasala. In 1947 he started music direction and went on to compose music for 108 films (84 films in Telugu out of which 8 films jointly with other music directors, 13 films in Tamil, 8 films in Kannada and 3 dubbing films).

He used to change the voice pitch and diction to suit the actor for whom he rendered the play back. People got the impression as if the actor was himself singing the song. He excelled in every form of music, be it classical, folk, harikatha, burrakatha, or yakshagaana. His voice modulation and expression were very unique and he could render all types of songs- be it romantic, melancholic, devotional, patriotic – effortlessly. He was one playback singer in the film industry who could do justice to all forms of music- classical, semi classical, light music and folk music.

“Many singers attempt to match their voice with the shruti. But Ghantasala is one rare singer in whose voice shruti is always present. This is very unique and only those who are borne with divine blessings could achieve this unique feat. “Said the famous and versatile artiste Chittor.V. Nagaiah, who was hailed as The Paul Muni (famous American stage and film actor) of India. 

The song “Siva Sankari” from the Telugu film Jagadeka Veeruni Katha (1961) sung by Ghantasala and composed by popular music director Pendyala Nageswara Rao in Darbari Kanada raga with the mixture of Hindusthani and Carnatic classical shades, is believed to be one of the most difficult compositions ever experimented in Bharatiya film songs.

The song continues to receive wide acclaim by music lovers/musicians and music critics even today. The famous Hindi Film Singer Mohammad Rafi, who was a contemporary to Ghantasala, had great appreciation for the song Siva Sankari and also for the song Payaninche O Chiluka of Ghantasala in film “Kuladaivam”(1960) which was sung by Mohammad Rafi as Chal ud Ja re Panchi in Hindi film Bhabhi (1957). 

Mohammad Rafi with pure heart made a public statement that the ending raga/alaap in the song Chal ud Ja re Panchi, he was not able to do justice similar to Ghantasala. What a tribute from one legendary singer to another legendary singer!  Famous Telugu music composer Sri Pendyala Nageswara Rao who was the composer of the song “Siva Sankari” applauded Ghantasala saying he was one of the very few playback singers who could sing at all three octaves (“threesthayee”) with ease. In 1964 Ghantasala gave music direction to the Hindi film (dubbed version of Tamil) Jhandaa ooncha Rahe Hamara and also sang a song. Rafi also sang in this film.

Lata Mangeshkar who had come to sing along with Rafi for the Hindi version of “Suvarnasundari” asked Ghantasala to join her for at least few lines in Hindi (for the song ‘Kuhu Kuhu Bole Koyaliya’) as she liked his excellent rendition of Hindustani ragas in Telugu version (Hayi Haayiga Aamani Saage). But Ghantasala politely refused saying it is not proper for him to do so when his great friend Rafi had come to render the same song.

Ghantasala played a big role in the acting careers of legendary actors like N.T. Ramarao, Akkineni Nageswara Rao close to three decades (1945-1974). He also sang for Sivaji Ganeshan, M.G.Ramachandran, and Gemini Ganesan in Tamil,  Rajkumar in Kannada and Prem Nazir in Malayalam in several films. It may not be an exaggeration to say that several films that were just average became commercially successful because of Ghantasala’s songs.

Apart from composing music for film songs, Ghantasala had also composed music and sang Sri Gurajada Apparao’s ‘Putthadi Bomma Poornamma’, Mahakavi Srisri’s ‘Polaalannanni halaaladunni’ & ‘Aaanandam arnavamaithe’, Sri Karunasri Jandhyaala Paapayya Sastri’s ‘Pushpa Vilaapam’ & ‘Kunthi Kumari’. These private albums are very popular till date among the Telugu music and literature lovers.

Padyam (verse that is sung in dramatic style) was a part of the performing arts of Andhra, mostly through mythological dramas, for 50 years. Aalap which is a prelude to a raga occupied a major part of rendering Padyams in the olden days in mythological plays and films. Ghantasala redefined the technique of rendering Padyam by compressing the Aalap yet doing a balance between music, lyrics and diction which made his style of rendering Padyams very popular among the Telugu speaking people.

In addition to his small role in the film “Seetha Rama Jananam (1944) Ghantasala also appeared on the silver screen in ‘Tyagayya'(1946) and ‘Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam'(1960). He also produced three movies – Paropakaaram (1953), Sontha Vooru (1956) and Bhaktha Raghunath (1960).

The popular devotional song on lord Balaji, “sheshasailavasa Srivenkatesa” in the film “Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam”, a film on the miracles of Lord Venkateswara was shot in front of Lord Balaji at the sanctum sanctorum in Tirumala Hills. Ghantasala leads the other group of singers/ devotees rendering this song that was picturised in Tirumala Balaji Temple. Thus, Ghantasala had the rare distinction of performing in the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Balaji after the 15th century Saint Sri Annamacharya (1408-1503 AD), who was an ardent devotee of Lord Balaji and composed several thousands of keertanas praising the glory of Lord Balaji.

Ghantasala also served as the Aaasthana Gaayaka (court musician) for the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams during the period 1969-1972. His private songs are equally popular that include songs on freedom movement, patriotism, Gita Govindam (Jayadeva Ashtapadi ins Sanaskrit), and songs on Bhagwan Balaji. He himself wrote the lyrics, composed music and sang 14 songs that are very popular even today out of which 4 songs are on Puttaparti Satya Sai Baba. Ghantasala was an ardent devotee of Satya Sai Baba. The songs penned and composed by Ghantasala reveal the philosophical side of his personality.  

His Bhagawad Gita private album (HMV) which he completed despite his ill health was released in April, 1974 nearly two months after his death. Ghantasala’s Bghagawad Gita album is very popular in both the Telugu speaking states in every nook and corner till date. His Master’s Voice (HMV) was immensely benefited by the private songs sung by His Majestic Voice (Ghantasala).

Ghantasala was an admirer of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the famous Hindustani vocal singer. In 1959 when Khan Saab and his team members came to Chennai to give a series of music concerts they stayed as guests at Ghantasala’s house.

 During Indo-China war and Bharat-Pakistan war (1965) and on several other occasions like- Rayalaseema droughts, for Police welfare and National Defence Fund Ghantasala actively participated in mobilising the donations from the people along with the south Bharatiya film artistes ‘s fraternity. He used to sing patriotic songs on those occasions to attract the people’s attention for the noble cause.

In 1970 Ghantasala was honoured by Bharatiya Government with Padmashree.  on 1 st February, 1970 the then Andhra Pradesh Government headed by the Chief Minister Sri. Kasu Brahmananda Reddy officially conducted a grand silver jubilee function at Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad to honour Ghantasala on his successful completion of 25 years in film industry. Stalwarts from south Bharatiya film industry attended this function and felicitated Ghantasala. Devanand and Waheed Rehman graced this event as special guests. The stadium was fully crowded and close to 30,000 people were expected to have attended this function.

In 1971 Ghantasala received Deenanath Mangeshkar’s award from Lata Mangeshkar in a function held at Hyderabad. During October, November, 1971 Ghantasala toured Germany, U.K, USA and Canada to give concerts. All the concerts were grand success and well received by the global audience. He also performed a concert at UNO during this foreign tour and was honoured with peace medal. The proceeds received from his first foreign concert at Gottingen, Germany were donated to the West Bengal Government for the benefit of the refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during the Bangladesh war.

On 11th February, 1974 Ghantasala passed away when he was 51 years. Every year his birth anniversary (4th December) and death anniversary (11th February) are celebrated by his fans not only in the two Telugu speaking states (A.P and Telangana) but across the world by NRIs.

On 11th February, 2003 Union Government released a postal stamp in the honour of Ghantasala. The government music college in Vijayawada is named after Ghantasala. The US Postal Department has released a postal stamp on Ghantasala on 6 October 2014. This postal stamp was jointly released by the North American Telugu Society (NATS) in collaboration with Telugu Literary and Cultural Association (TLCA) in New York. His fans in Bharat have voluntarily built several statues and couple of temples as well in his memory.

Ghantasala used to say , “ I can not agree that as an artiste one should limit himself to earn  money, name and fame . An artiste should always be empethetic to the social problems and has to also use his art for the social welfare. I am always ready to do my part and serve the mother country whenever it is required.”

This is the birth centenary year of this legendary singer and it will be befitting to honour him with Bharat Ratna, an award that he truly deserves. 

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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]


  1. Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao the legend is a Gandharva born as Human. I recollect the saying of Dr C Narayana Reddy That When He read in the puranas about Gandharva s the celestial singers he did not believe that they existed Si na re said after seeing Ghantasala he had to believe that Ghandharvas were there
    The Ghantasala Era the Golden era not only Telugu Film industry but Music world as a whole.

  2. I fully agree with Dr Parthasarathi sir. In fact when Ghantasala master sang in front of Lord Venkateshwara in Tirumala, Lord decided to take Ghantasala master to Vaikuntam. I also fully endorse and support that Ghantasala master must be given Bharat Ratna in his centenary year.

  3. A thorough life sketch. A link to some of his memorable melody will be handy.
    Whenever we cross thru his famous t ngr Chennai residence my FIL use to recollect his golden days


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