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P Leela

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Birth name  Porayathu Leela
Name  P. Leela
Occupation(s)  Singer
Role  Singer

Instruments  Vocalist
Died  October 31, 2005, Chennai
Years active  1949–2005
Siblings  Sharadha, Bhanumathi
P. Leela httpsiytimgcomviDjsDXBh2A0hqdefaultjpg

Born  19 May 1934Chittur, Palakkad, British India (1934-05-19)
Genres  Indian classical music and playback singing
Albums  Narayaneeyam, Asuravithu, Devi Stothra Pushpanjali
Parents  Porayath Meenakshi Amma, V.K. Kunjanmenon
Similar People  Ghantasala, A M Rajah, P Susheela, Jikki, Baburaj

ജ്ഞാനപ്പാന Jnanappana Full ver. P.Leela

Special Program: P Leela

Porayathu Leela (19 May 1934 – 31 October 2005), popularly known as P Leela, was an Indian playback singer.


Early life

P. Leela Jnanappana Full ver PLeela YouTube

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 working as 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.

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 in her mellifluous voice both for the 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. She has worked under all great music directors and has sung with all the major singers of the South Indian film industry.


Leela had a gifted voice. Thiribuvana Manibhagavadhar, the uncle of musician T. V. Gopalakrishnan was her first guru. 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 Ariyakkudi Ramanujam, 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. 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.

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 number of 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.

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 as the Bhagavad Gita of Malayalees. Her soulful rendering of this philosophical poem is still considered as one of the best classical in Malayalam devotional music.

Partial Filmography

This is partial list of P Leela's songs.

  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)

Personal life

Leela got married to 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." Leela fulfilled her father's dreams, enthralling her fans with her mellifluous voice.

Awards and recognition

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

She was conferred with the Kalaimamani title in 1992 by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa who in her speech said that though the award had come late, she was proud to be the one to bestow it on her.

In 2003, Leela was presented the Janmashtami Puraskaram instituted by Balasamskara Kendram for her efforts in spreading 'Narayaniyam', 'Jnanappana' and 'Harinamakeerthanam.'

She was awarded Padma Bhushan posthumously in the year 2006.

Leela has been conferred with many titles like ganamani, ganakokila, kalarathnam and ganavarshini.


P. Leela died on 31 October 2005, at 3:40 IST at Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre in Chennai.


P. Leela Wikipedia

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