P. Leela

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P. Leela
P. Leela in the late 1940s
Background information
Birth namePorayathu Leela
Born(1934-05-19)19 May 1934
Chittur, Palakkad, British India
Died31 October 2005(2005-10-31) (aged 71)
Chennai, India
Genres Indian classical music and playback singing
Years active1948–2005

Porayathu Leela (19 May 1934 – 31 October 2005) was an Indian playback singer, Carnatic vocalist and a music director. She has recorded more than 5,000 songs in various Indian languages including Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, Sanskrit, Odiya, Gujarati, Marati etc. and also Sinhale. She is also known for her extensive history of collaboration in the songs with Music Composers V Dakshinamoorthy., MS Baburaj, G Devarajan, Ghantasala, MS Viswanathan , KRaghavan, Br Lakshmanan, LPR Varma, BA Chithambara athletes, AT Ummer, MK Arjun,Johnson, Ouseppachan, Ilaiyaraja, and with the playback singers KJ Yesudas and Ghantalasa over the years. [1] She is also known mostly for her sweet and melodious voice for which she is fondly called as Ganamani. She was awarded Padma Bhushan in 2006.


Early life

P Leela was born in 1934, in Chittur, Palakkad, Kerala to V.K. Kunjanmenon and Porayath Meenakshi Amma. She was the youngest of the three daughters – Sharadha, Bhanumathi and Leela. V K Kunjanmenon was a teacher in Ramavarma Higher Secondary School at Ernakulam. V.K.Menon was passionate about music "We were three girls in our family and I was the youngest. My father wanted us to learn Carnatic music and all three of us used to sing well, My father was solely responsible for making me a singer." said Leela.[ citation needed ]

Starting at the age of 13, she has sung about 5000 film songs in all the South Indian languages – Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. She also sang for a Bengali film and in Sinhala movies. Her songs are known for their emotional touch and classical discipline. She made a name for herself by singing both in film industry and in Carnatic music. She considered it an honor to have sung in the same period as M S Subbulakshmi, M L Vasanthakumari and D K Pattammal – three giants of Carnatic Music.[ citation needed ] She has worked under all great music directors and has sung with all the major singers of the South Indian film industry.


Leela's first guru was Thiribuvana Manibhagavadhar, the uncle of musician T. V. Gopalakrishnan. Later she learnt from Paththamadai Krishna Ayyar, Maruthuvakudi Rajagopala Iyer and Rama Bhagavathar. Leela was trained in Carnatic music by doyens such as Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and V. Dakshinamoorthy. Vadakkancheri Ramabhagavadhar was a close friend of Menon. He had settled down in Madras. He would invite Menon and Leela to Madras to learn music whenever he visited Ernakulam. The headmistress of the school where Leela was studying advised her father to take her to Madras for further training in music.

It was Menon's ambition to make his youngest daughter an accomplished singer. Menon resigned his job in Ernakulam and took Leela to Madras in 1944. They stayed with Vadakkancheri Ramabagavathar in Mylapore and the 10-year-old Leela started learning in gurukula style. Her father was particular that Leela do sadhaka (practice music) early in the morning.

In Madras, Leela had opportunities to listen concerts of singers like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, S. Ramanathan, G. N. Balasubramaniam, Chembai and others. Leela said this 'kelvi gnanam' (learning music by listening) helped her much in fine-tuning music and molding her.[ citation needed ] Leela sang at many music competitions in the city winning prizes in 1946. Durgabai Deshmukh gave her the first concert at Andra Mahila Sabha. Leela was giving concerts in various places.

Entry into film industry

Columbia Recording Company was looking for a female voice and the manager Ganabathirama Iyer recommended Leela. She was appointed as their artiste. This paved the way for her entry into films.

In Tamil, Nandakumar was the first movie to introduce playback singing. A.V. Meiyappa Chettiar came up with the innovative idea of replacing the soundtrack with voice and the playback system was introduced in Tamil cinema in 1938. It gradually got acceptance and many singers entered the movie world. "I was introduced at a time when actresses were singing for themselves," reminisces Leela.

When she landed in Madras she did not know Tamil or Telugu. She used to write the song in Malayalam and practice them to perfection. Once she started her career as playback singer she arranged tutors and learnt other languages.

She got her first offer to sing in 1948 for a Tamil movie. Her father was initially reluctant but later he was persuaded to accept. Leela made her debut as playback singer in the movie Kanganam. She sang her first song, Sree Varalakshmi..., when she was just 13 years old. C.H. Padmanabhasastry was the music director of the film. She sang all the songs for the heroine in that film. After her debut in Kanganam, for two decades and more she was the most sought-after playback singer in South Indian Cinema. [2]

In 1948 she sang Paaduka Poonkuyile for the Malayalam movie Nirmala, though Balan , made in 1938, was the first Malayalam "talkie" with a sound track. Balan was produced by T.R Sundaram for Modern Theatres, Salem, with S. Nottani as the director.

Telugu movies

In 1949 Leela made her debut in Telugu Cinema singing in three films: Manadesam, Keelu Gurram and Gunasundari Katha .

Singer and music director Ghantasala (with whom Leela has sung the most songs) introduced Leela in Manadesam. She sang all the songs for the heroine in the film Gunasundari Katha.

Songs of the film including Kalakala Aa Lokilemo, Challani, Doravele, Chandamama, Sree tulasi Jaya tulasi, Ammaa mahalaxmi dayas and Eyavamma became hits.

In the 1950s Leela was busy singing in all the South Indian languages. Her songs in films like Patala Bhairavi , Missamma , Pelli Chesi Choodu , Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu , Gundamma Katha are the greatest melodies and remembered even today after many decades.

Vijaya productions' first movie, Shavukaru, did not fare well at the box office. However, the film had great melodies by Ghantasala and Leela.

In the film Missamma (made as Missiyamma in Tamil), the music by S. Rajeswara Rao combined with the voices of A.M. Raja, P. Leela and P. Suseela have become immortal, casting a magical spell over the listeners.

Vijaya productions sixth film made in the 1957, Mayabazar (directed by K.V.Reddy) is a true classic. The song 'Vivaha Bhojanammu (kalyana samaiyal satham)' in the film still stands the test of time. In one of the interviews Leela recalled that while recording the songs of 'Maya Bazaar, the composer took 28 takes of a song and they used the fifth take.

She worked as a music director for a film called 'Chinnari Papalu' (Telugu) in 1968. The film was produced exclusively by women.

This list of Leela's achievements as singer will not be complete without mentioning the film Lava Kusa (1963). She sang eight songs along with P. Susheela.

Leela fulfilled her father's dreams, enthralling her fans with her mellifluous voice.Her melodies will be remembered and heard forever.

Devotional songs

Narayaniyam is an immortal sublime hymn on Lord Guruvayoorappan, composed by Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri.

When Guruvayoor Dewaswom decided to bring out the album Narayaniyam, names of several musicians like MS, MLV were considered and finally the Dewaswom approved Leela to sing Narayaniyam. "I got the chance to sing Narayaniyam which I consider as an honour..." said Leela.

Another great work of Leela is Jnanappana. Jnanappana can be considered the Bhagavad Gita of Malayalees. Her soulful rendering of this philosophical poem is still considered one of the best classical in Malayalam devotional music.


Main article List of songs by P. Leela

This is partial list of P Leela's songs.

1948 Kangkanam
1948 Thirumalisai Alvar Giridhaari
1949 Inbavalli *Inbamana Mohini maane with T. R. Mahalingam
1949 Gunasundari Katha "Sri Tulasi Jaya Tulasi"
"Upakara Gunalayavai"
1951 Patala Bhairavi "Pranaya Jeevulaku Devi Varaale"
"Entha Ghaatu Premayo"
"Kalavaramaaye Madilo"
1951 Singari "Jighu Jighu Samakku Paarungo"
"O! Chellaiah Nee Vallaiah"
"Kaanil Vennilaa Poleh"
"Bhaarathi Enge Solladi"
"Vaanavillaipoleh Oru Vaaliban"
1952 Amarakavi "Chedi Maraivile Oru Poongodi", "Yaanai Thandham Pole" and "Konji Pesum Kiliye" with MKT
"Mullaich Chirippile" and "Mookuthi Minnudhu" with N. L. Ghanasaraswathi
1953 Bratuku Theruvu "Andame Anandam Anandame Jeevita Makarandam"
1954 Pudhu Yugam "Vaazhvinile Inba Saubhagyam"
"Kaadhal Kondu Poovil Vandu" with Ghantasala
"Pudhu Yugam, Pudhu Yugam" with Jikki
1954 Vaira Malai "Nadana Kala Rani" (Dance Drama) with A. P. Komala and G. K. Venkatesh
1955 Jayasimha "Eenaati Eehaayi Kalakadoyi Nijamoyi"
1955 Missamma "Karuninchu Mary Matha"
"Telusukonave Chelli"
"Yemito Ee Maaya Challani Raja"
""Raavoyi Chandamaama"
"Raaga Sudha Rasa"
1956 Chiranjeevulu "Thellavaaraga Vachhe Theliyaka Naasaami Malliparundevu Lera"
"Kanupaapa Karuvaina Kanulenduko"
1956 Tenali Ramakrishna "Jagamula Dayanele Janani Sadashivuni Manoharini"
1956 Tenali Raman "Ulagellaam Unatharulaal Malarum", "Ulagellaam Unatharulaal Malarum (pathos)", "Aadum Kalaiyellam Paruva Mangaiyar Azhagu Koorum"
1957 Maya Bazaar "Chinnari Sasirekha Vardhillavamm"
"Vinnava Yashodamma"
"Neekosame Ne Jeevinchunadi"
"Neevena Nanu Thalachinadi"
"Laahiri Laahiri Laahirilo"
"Choopulu Kalasina Subhavela"
1957 Suvarna Sundari "Bangaaru Vannela Rangaaru Sanjala Rangeli Yetenchene"
1957 Pathini Deivam "Gnaanakkanna Ezhundhiru" (with T. M. Soundararajan)
"Vaaraai Indre Mohana"
"Chinna Chinna Vayasile" with group
1957Babruvaahana"Yelara Manohara
Manasemo Vayyaraala"
1958 Uthamaputhiran "Kathiruppan Kamalakannan"
1958 Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu "Joharu Gaikonara Deva"
"Rama Rama Saranam Bhadradri Rama Saranam"
1958 Pelli Naati Pramanalu "Sreemanturalivai Cheluvondu Maata Mammu Deevimpuma Maa Andhramata"
1959 Abalai Anjugam "Daaladikkum Paappaa Jaaliyaaga"
1959 Amudhavalli "Anbum Amaidhiyum" (with T. R. Mahalingam)
"Singaara Vadivamaana Thithikkum" (with Sirkazhi Govindarajan)
1959 Nalla Theerpu "Azhagaana Maaran Yaaradi"
1960 Chavukkadi Chandrakantha "Aadchiyum Soozhchchiyum Sernthaal" (with A. G. Rathnamala)
"Malarvana Veedhiyile Vasantha Thaerile"
1960Shanti Nivasam"Kalanaina Nee Valape Kalavaramandaina Nee Talape"
1960Raja Makutam"Ooredi Peredi
"Sadiseyako Gaali"
"Amba Jagadamba"
Edanunnado Ekkadunnado"
1961 Jagadeka Veeruni Katha "Nanu Dayaganave Naa Moravinava"
"Jalakaalaatalalo kalakalapaatalalo" along with P. Suseela and "Varinchi Vachchina Maanavaveerudu also along with P. Suseela""
1961 Kumara Raja "Yettil Padithathodu Irundhuvidaathe"
"Naan Vandhu Serndha Idam Nalla Idam"
"Aanundu Paada, Pennundu Aada" (with J. P. Chandrababu)
1963 Lava Kusha "Ramakathanu Vinarayyaa Ihapara Sukhamulanosage"
"Voorake Kanneeru Nimpa Karanamemamma"
"Vinudu Vinudu Ramayana Gaatha Vinudee Manasara"
"Sriraamuni Charithamunu Telipedamamma"
1965 Pandava Vanavasam "Devaa Deena Baandhavaa"
1966 Sri Krishna Pandaveeyam "Swagatam Suswagatam" along with P. Suseela
1967 Rahasyam "Shrilalitha Shivajyothi Sarvakaamadaa"
"Evo Kanulu Karuninchinavee" (duet with Ghantasala Master who was the music director tooP for this movie)
  1. Sampoorna Ramayanam (1971)
  2. Paramanandayya Shishyula Katha (1966)
  3. Tirupathamma Katha (1963)
  4. Mahamantri Timmarasu (1962)
  5. Gundamma Katha (1962)
  6. Dakshayagnam (1962)
  7. Sri Seetha Rama Kalyanam (1961)
  8. Deepavali (1960)
  9. Sahasra Siracheda Apoorva Chinthamani (1960)
  10. Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam (1960)
  11. Krishna Leelalu (1959)
  12. Pelli Sandadi (1959)
  13. Mangalya Balam (1958)
  14. Dongallo Dora (1957)
  15. Panduranga Mahatyam (1957)
  16. Preme Daivam (1957)
  17. Sarangadhara (1957)
  18. Bhakta Markandeya (1956)
  19. Bhale Ramudu (1956)
  20. Jayam Manade (1956)
  21. Anarkali (1955)
  22. Vadina Gari Gajulu (1955)
  23. Vaddante Dabbu (1954)
  24. Oka Talli Pillalu (1953)
  25. Palletooru (1952)
  26. Pelli Chesi Choodu (1952)
  27. Patala Bhairavi (1951)
  28. Navvite Navaratnalu (1951)
  29. Paramanandayya Shishyula Katha (1950)

A partial list of Malayalam songs by P. Leela can be found at the Wikipedia entry: List of songs by P. Leela

Music Direction

She worked as the music director for the film Chinnari Papalu .

1.Uyyala Uyala 2. Oyabbo Emdi Chinnari Papalu

  Vocals:P Suseela 

3. E kKommaku Poocheno E Gaaliki Veecheno

Personal life

Leela married a lawyer, but the marriage was not successful. In her later years, Leela was busy rendering classical concerts and light music programs. Leela was staying with her sister's children in Defence colony, St. Thomas Mount (Parangimalai). Her world consisted of her music, her pooja room and memories of her father. V.K.Menon was the man behind the singer Leela. In many of the interviews Leela emotionally recalled "If I am standing in front of you and talking, it is because of my father; he was everything to me. The fame, wealth was all given to me by him. Without him, I am not what I am."

Legacy, Singing style

She was known for her ability to sing both classical and light, film music also her emotional touch and classical discipline she imparted. [3] It can be well explained by her song in the film Chilamboli, Priyamanasa née composed by V Dakshinamoorthy and sung by her, which is a film song with strict classical touch and emotion. [4]

On her death, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha said

One of the greatest vocal musicians of India, who made a name for herself by singing exquisite songs in her mellifluous voice in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu both for the film industry, as well as in Carnatic music." She had also rendered melodious devotional songs.

Though she had been decorated with a number of awards including the Kalaimamani Award of the State Government for 1991-92, she was the epitome of humility and considered her contributions in the field of music a humble service to humanity and an offering to the Lord.

In her passing, we have lost a great singer, leaving a great void in the world of music. [5]

Awards and recognition

1.Civilian Honours by Government of India

She was awarded Padma Bhushan posthumously for her contributions in the year 2006. [6]

Tamil Nadu State Honour

She was conferred with the Kalaimamani title [7] in 1992 by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa [8] [ citation needed ]

Kerala State Awards

Leela received the best playback singer award of the Kerala government in 1969 for the song Ujjayiniyile Gaayika from the movie Kadalpalam.

She received a Certificate of Honour for the Growth and Developments of Malayalam Films by Kerala Government. [9]

Other awards




P. Leela died on 31 October 2005, at 00:40 IST at Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre in Chennai. She was hospitalized in late September after suffering serious injuries sustained due to a fall at the bathroom in her home. Though she was operated on, her condition suddenly worsened due to pneumonia, probably a complication of asthma she suffered for a long time, and she went into a deep coma a day before she died. She was cremated with full state honours the same day at Besant Negar Crematorium.


An open stage named Thiruvarangu was built in 2018 at her native place Chittur-Tathamangalam in her memory. [16] [17]


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