Chitti Babu: A Legendary Veena Maestro

Chitti Babu (1936-1996) stands tall among the eminent Veena artistes of India, securing his place among the all-time greats in the realm of this revered instrument. An icon in his own lifetime, his name resonates synonymously with the Veena in the Carnatic music world, simply known as "Veena" Chitti Babu. While adhering to the principles of his Guru's pioneering Emani "Bani*" (tradition/style), Chitti Babu crafted a distinctive style and identity entirely his own. His enchanting tonal quality and versatility became the magical hallmarks of his Veena play, producing sounds ranging from the majestic Vedic Hymns to the delicate notes of a Cuckoo's voice, and even venturing into Western music compositions. Renowned for reproducing songs with almost vocal-like tonal quality on his Veena, he evoked deep emotional and appreciative responses from his audiences.

Having extensively toured India, the USA, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific, Chitti Babu performed to packed auditoriums for nearly five decades, transcending cultural barriers and carrying India's rich musical heritage worldwide.

Born on October 13th, 1936, in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, Chitti Babu, initially named Hanumantu, displayed his prodigious talent by starting to play the Veena at the tender age of 5. Encouraged by his music-loving parents, Ranga Rao Challapally and Sundaramma Challapally, he received early training from Shri Pandravada Upmakaya and Shri. Eyyuni Appalacharyulu. Recognizing the boy's genius, both teachers urged Ranga Rao to nurture his son's inherent talent.

Chitti Babu gave his first performance at the age of 12, inspired by the original style of Veena maestro Emani Sankara Sastry. Despite a significant stint in the South Indian Film Industry from 1948-1962, where he worked as a recording artist for movie soundtracks, his burning ambition was to establish himself as an independent, freelancing performing artist. Declaring "Veena is my Mission in Life," he pursued his concert career, becoming a sought-after artist both in India and abroad.

Throughout his illustrious career, Chitti Babu received numerous awards, titles, and honors, including the prestigious "Kalaimamani" in 1972 by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr. M. Karunanidhi, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 1990 presented by the then President of India, Shri. R. Venkataraman. He was also honored with the title "Asthana Vidwan" by Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams in the early '70s.

Chitti Babu's remarkable journey, marked by thousands of concerts over five decades, solidified his legacy as a legendary Veena maestro, leaving an indelible impact on the world of Carnatic music.

Dakshinamurthy is a scholar and researcher of Indic themes and a contributing writer of The Verandah Club

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