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Unforgettable Ghantasala

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arun_8687

Goldie

arun_8687

Joined: 28 October 2005

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Posted: 07 February 2006 at 10:44am | IP Logged
Unforgettable Ghantasala (1922-1974)
By Sreenadh Jonnavithula



For an entire generation of Telugu people born between 1940 and 1980, the name of Ghantasala is synonymous with the most beautiful and melodious music possible. There have been singers before, and singers after. But no one, it is safe to say, has claimed such a special place in the hearts of their fans as Ghantasala.
Ghantasala's Early Days

The story of Ghantasala's rise to prominence in film music reads much like the plot of a movie. Born on December 4, 1922 in an obscure village called Choutupalle near Gudivada, Venkateshwara Rao was always interested in music. His inspiration and his teacher was his father Surayya, an itinerant singer of tarangalu, and mridangam player. Sadly, Surayya passed away when Venkateshwara Rao was only 11. The family was supported by his maternal uncle Ryali Pichiramaiah.

Once, when Venkateshwara Rao started to sing, someone made fun of him. Stung to the quick, he vowed to himself that he would seek musical training, and silence these critics. Realizing the family financial situation, he surreptitiously sold off his gold ring, and set off to Vizianagaram to enroll in the Music College. When he reached there, he found that the college was closed for summer. He was forced to fend for himself, by eating once a day at different houses (aayavaram) or by madhukaram (begging for food as a brahmin student). Somehow, he came to the attention of Paatrayani Sitarama Sastry, who taught singing at the college. Through his kindness, he managed to get an audition with Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, the principal of the college, and found himself a student of vocal music at the college. And as a student, he earned the privilege of eating for free at the Maharaja's choultry.

Venkateshwara Rao's financial woes did not end with obtaining his degree. He eked out a living by giving wedding concerts, mostly of classical music with a sprinkling of tarangas, Ramadas keertanas etc., Finding it difficult to make ends meet, he tried his hand at traditional drama, even starting his own company. In 1942, he joined the Quit India movement and was sentenced to 18 months of rigorous imprisonment.

Upon release from prison, he decided that political ferver was not for him. He got married to Savitri of Pedapulivarru. It was in this village that he met Samudrala Raghavacharya, who inducted him into the film industry in Madras, and changed the course of music history.
Ghantasala and Telugu Music

Ghantasala's influence on popular Telugu music is profound. Of course, his Golden voice ensured that whatever he sang would be melodious and perfect. But Ghantasala was more than just a melodious voice. His primary contribution, one might almost say, was to make music accessible to all. For example, consider his way with Telugu padyalu. Padyam was a part of the performing arts of Andhra, mostly through mythological drama, for fifty years. But the intent was primarily musical, with emphasis on intricate gamakas, breath control, raga elaboration etc., When Ghantasala rendered padyaalu in the classical mythologicals, on the other hand, the emphasis was always on displaying the character's emotions, and inner turmoil. Consider the raw anger and menace he manages to convey in #daaruNi raajyasampadaku madaMbuna kOmali kRshNa jooci# in Pandava Vanavasam - Bhima's fury is almost palpable. Or the repentance and bhakti in Raavana's lament #paramaSaivaachara parulalO atyaMta priyudannavasam kalpincinaavu# from Seetaraama Kalyaanam. Even in the non mythological context, Ghantasala was adept at making beautiful poetry accessible to the commoner. Poets like Karunasri (Jandhyala Papayya Sastri) who were very highly regarded, but only among the litteratti, became accessible to the man on the street through Ghantasala's stunning renderings of Pushpavilapam and Kunti Kumari, which bring out the inner turmoil and emotions of the protagonists.

This theme, of playing up the emotions of the character, persists through all of his music. Perhaps his humble beginnings, and the years of difficult times, helped him bring out the deep sadness in songs such as #jagamE maaya# (in a Vividhbharati interview, Ghantasala tells of how much singing this song affected him). Who can remain dry eyed listening to him singing about #puttadi bomma poorNamma# , or #amma ani arachina aalakincavemamma#. His bhakti songs are legendary, especially those in praise of his #ishtadaivam# Sree Venkateshwara. The privately produced #Seshadri Sikharaana# and the song #SEshasailaa vaasa# from Venkateswara Mahatyam will remain, forever, as the idealization of #bhakti rasam#.

Ghantasala was also matchless in the romantic songs he rendered so effortlessly. It is the genius of the artist that makes these songs seem so easy - they most certainly are not, as almost any one who has tried to sing these songs can testify. Songs like #aa navvula kOsamE nEnu kalalu gannanu#, #valapu valE teeyagaa#, #naa hrudayaMlO nidurimcE celii# ... these form the shared culture of the Telugu people.

In fact, Ghantasala did such an extraordinary job of portraying the emotions and conflicts of characters in movies, in a way that mere pictures or words cannot, that the songs themselves have managed to acquire an independent stature and meaning of their own. Tearing themselves free from the original cinematographic context in which they were sung, these songs have gone on to be treasured and enjoyed long after the movies themselves were long forgotten!

The Indian Express, in a tribute paid to Ghantasala after his death, said it best: "Tributes paid to Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, on his death, praise his Melodious Voice. But, these not only sound inadequate, they also fail to grasp the truth of the matter. He was no mere singer but a true poet, who could comprehend and 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"

It is a measure of Ghantasala's enormous talent and success that a full thirty years after his death, his songs from the golden age of Telugu music are not just remembered, but continue to be bestsellers. Walk into any music store anywhere in Andhra, and still, to this day, you will find atleast half the shelf space devoted his songs. To this day, various Ghantasala societies across the state and indeed the world commemorate his birthday, or the date of his passing, with musical programs by upcoming artists.
Ghantasala in New York

Ghantasala visited New York on his one and only foreign tour, October 8 to Nov 5, 1971. In his usual generous way, he had the following comments about his New York experience in a press release upon his return:

"From London to New York was one hop and by the 13th afternoon, we arrived in Kennedy Airport in New York and we were given a rousing reception by the members of the Telugu Literary and Cultural Association of New York. From the 13th October to 1st November it looked like one long day with so many programmes crowded in. We traveled more than 10,000 miles within the US and Canada and have given 11 concerts besides the Golden recording session in New York.

"The Telugu Literary and Cultural Association has organized the entire programme in the US and Canada in a very systematic manner and I gave concerts in Newark, Washington D.C, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, New York (in the United Nations), Syracuse and again the final one in New York.

"Some of the concerts were very well attended and a few had moderate attendance but on the average, each concert had nearly 400 people listening to our Indian Music. The majority of the people who attended these concerts in the US were Indians and the foreigners were in a minority. The Indians, who were living in a radius of 300 to 400 miles of each of these concert places drove in, to listen to the concerts. Even in the US, the original time schedules for the concerts were all thrown overboard and at popular request I had to extend the concerts to three to four hours in each place and I could notice, particularly the foreigners - the Americans - sitting there spell bound and getting into the spirit of the music. Even though the concerts were long, the inspiration I got from looking at the faces of the audiences never made me feel tired but on the other hand I went on with greater spirit and strength.

"The Telugu Literary and Cultural association of New York and their Ghantasala reception committee had organized and planned these very carefully. In each of these centers, where concerts were held, coordinators were nominated to look after the various arrangements and nowhere was there any delay either in the starting of the concert or my arrival schedules or my departure schedules. Every minute of my 21-day itinerary was carefully planned and fitted in. It was a real experience for me and for my orchestra to go through these in such a systematic manner. Sometimes, we found it difficult and tiring to keep pace with that highly organized and mechanized way of life but yet somehow we managed them without causing any inconvenience to the organizers and our hosts.

"Their organizational efficiency is only paralleled by their very kind hospitality. They had entertained us, feasted us, looked after us so well and taken us out on long sight seeing drives and tours in their cars and practically showed us all the important places in the US like the Niagara Water falls, the Disney Land and all the important places in all the cities. I could not find words to thank all our Telugu friends in the States who have provided us every comfort during our stay there. The 21-day visit to the US was just like going in a different orbit at a fantastic speed and it was like a pleasant and sweet dream.

"On the first day they had organized a recording function - Golden Record - in honor of my visit to North America. The records will be coming here soon and you will hear them in due course. On the last day, they had organized another function - A SANMAANAM for me and my orchestra, presented me with shawls and other gifts to the members of my orchestra. At the U.N. concert, I was decorated with a UN Peace Medal.

"Practically, in all these concerts, I had given chances to some of the members of my orchestra to give solo performances for a few minutes - Janardhan on Sitar, Nanjundaiah on the Flute and Venu Madhav - mimicry.

"It may be noted that it is the first time that any Indian Musician visited the United States with so many members in the Orchestra. My party consisted of ten members including myself. As such, this large number in the team, had the inherent problems of different outlooks and behaviors. In spite of these difficulties, we had to face now and then, because of our unwieldy numbers, in travel arrangements for all these people, I am glad to tell you that we had come out of all these unscathed and it should be said to the credit to Shri K.G. Krishnamurti, who had accompanied me as the manager of the group that everything went off well as far as our group is concerned.

"The credit for the successful concerts, as well as the trip to US should go to the organizers - the Telugu Literary and Cultural Association of New York and their very efficient office bearers - Shri G.A. Narasimha Rao, Shri R.R. Planki, Shri G. Narayana Rao, Smt.Lakshmi Bulusu, Sri Ramadass and a host of others, who have worked very hard and helped to make this a very big success.

"Everywhere people had come to see and hear Ghantasala. It did not mater what I sang or how I sang. But I had been very much touched by the depth of the feeling and their affection for me, when I saw large numbers of our people come to me and thank me for visiting them and invite me again and again to visit their places. Not only our Indian friends but even some of the American Visitors to these concerts have come up to me personally and expressed great appreciation.

"I am thankful to God Almighty because my voice never faltered and failed me. It maintained it spirit and it never disappointed me or the people who came to listen to my concerts. I was lucky that my health also stood up in spite of the heavy stress and strain of the hectic trip an the long concerts I had to give. It was more the enthusiasm of the people and the inspiration they gave me that sustained me all along. As I left New York on the evening of 1st November I had the feeling of supreme satisfaction that I had realized my long cherished dream and lived up to the expectation of all my friends, who have invited me to the States and made this possible. It was the same feeling of satisfaction that was expressed by my hosts - the Office bearers and members of the Telugu Literary and Cultural Association, who had come to the airport to bid me and my party farewell."
Celebrating Ghantasala in the Internet Age

Technology had not been kind to Ghantasala or indeed, to Telugu music. Most of the songs he had sung were recorded by HMV, and a good number of the masters were lost or damaged due to the lack of interest shown by this "big business". AIR, which must have a large number of his programs on archives somewhere, also appears to have lost the whole collection. The songs that survived are those remaining on 78 RPM disks in the hands of private collectors. (HMV suddenly came to its senses recently, and has begun issuing new albums recovered from some of these 78 RPM disks!).

The coming of the internet age, I like to think, has decisively changed all that, and made technology a powerful ally of Ghantasala and his music. An entire generation of people could now begin to indulge their passionate love of Ghantasala and his music. The following is a brief history, and is by no means comprehensive. Any omissions are entirely my fault, and due to ignorance.

The first effort I am aware of began on Apr 5 1995 with the establishment of a Ghantasala mailing list at the U of Wisconsin by Ratnakar Sonti. After various evolutions, this mailing list moved in April 2000 to "egroups.com" which was later taken over by Yahoo! It currently lives at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ghantasala . Discussions on this group range from announcements of new casette releases, programs and magazine articles, to dissection of individual songs and their meaning or intent.

Various Ghantasala internet sites began to appear, which were mainly collections of his songs. In January of 2002, the website http://www.ghantasala.info was established, with a lofty goal: "The dream is to create a comprehensive site that is pleasure to browse for the novice explorer, the connoisseur as well as the music buff". (I am proud to say that I am the webmaster of this site, but it is the product of several people's hard work). As a matter of policy, we decided that this website was not going to be a collection of songs; Rather, we would focus more on collecting material on Ghantasala himself (speeches, articles, comments of celebrities, functions commemorating him etc.,) and on his songs (lyrics, data such as movie, music director, lyricist etc.,). This site has a comprehensive database of over 2000 songs, with a search engine to find songs quickly. It also has hundreds of lyrics to Ghantasala songs. We also had various games, such as Anthakshari, adapted to the internet.

As a result of this website and the discussion groups, we have discovered and bonded with a widely distributed group of Ghantasala fans, across different countries, working together to further his legacy. We have collected various speeches, radio programs etc., live concerts etc., on Ghantasala and made them publicly available. For example, we have the following signoff in Ghantasala's own voice at the end of one of his Janaranjani programs.

"naa jeevitaM ilaagE kaDatEraalani, jeevitaM unnaMtakaalam paaDukOvaalani, paaDutuu unnaMta kaalamE naa jeevitaM nilavaalani, manaspoortigaa aaSistuu ... naa aaSelu nerevErEMduku gaanu aa EDukoMDalavaaDu naaku sahakaristaaDani, naa vaakku bhaliMcETTugaa cEstaaDani manaspoortigaa aaSistuu, SelavateesukuMTunnanu"

He got his wish .. he continued to delight Telugu audiences with his golden voice right up until his death, and in the process, earned our undying gratitude.


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arun_8687

Goldie

arun_8687

Joined: 28 October 2005

Posts: 2225

Posted: 07 February 2006 at 10:49am | IP Logged
yeah,Abhi ..just notice that..Jem Di ko PM maro Wink

arun_8687

Goldie

arun_8687

Joined: 28 October 2005

Posts: 2225

Posted: 07 February 2006 at 10:50am | IP Logged
Drop That "Ji" Abhi,Im just 19
And Yeah,Jem Di ko PM maro Wink

arun_8687

Goldie

arun_8687

Joined: 28 October 2005

Posts: 2225

Posted: 07 February 2006 at 10:50am | IP Logged
OOps..Sry 4 the Double Post Tongue

gvnls

Goldie

gvnls

Joined: 10 November 2005

Posts: 1561

Posted: 07 February 2006 at 10:55am | IP Logged
tx for the nice post

arun_8687

Goldie

arun_8687

Joined: 28 October 2005

Posts: 2225

Posted: 07 February 2006 at 11:00am | IP Logged
Ur Welcum,Guyz..Sad that he died at just 52 Cry

aditigill

Senior Member

aditigill

Joined: 12 September 2005

Posts: 869

Posted: 07 February 2006 at 11:13am | IP Logged
am all emotional now, oh my god, i cant tell u how much i love this man, i feelbad that i culd never see this man and md.rafi, when i go to heaven i am asking the almighty to put me in their team. i think i deserve that.

Sree2006

Newbie

Sree2006

Joined: 12 January 2006

Posts: 21

Posted: 07 February 2006 at 1:23pm | IP Logged
Sri.Ghantasala is one the legendary singers that we have and We should feel so blessed just to be able to listening to him. He was called as "GanaGandharva." and Indeed he is.

Thankyou for such a nice post arun!

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