Born in 1930, Vithal Rao started his career as a vocalist at the very young age of seven when he was drafted into the Nizam’s Army Band. As one of the last court singer of the Nizams, Rao had many anecdotes from the durbars of Mir Osman Ali Khan and later his son Moazzam Jha, for whom he sang ghazals and bhajans. His father had put him under the tutelage of Guru Laxman Rao Panchopoti.
His fame even reached Bollywood and he was asked by Naushad and Mohd. Rafi to relocate to Mumbai, which he declined. He apparently did not want to leave his "watan" and "mitti" and probably that was why he came back to take his last breath in his beloved Hyderabad. He used to say that Nargis (the actress) had once commented: "He is a Marathi, how will he bring nazaqat in ghazals?" But when he sang Teri ruswayiyon se dar ta hun jab terey shehar se guzarta hun..., it moved her to tears. Though Rao did not relocate to Mumbai, he did compose music for Hindi movies like Sukh Dukh and Irada. Singers Mohd Rafi, Manna De and Asha Bhonsle had sung for these movies. He composed music for Telugu movies as well.
Pandit Vithal Rao’s daughter Bindhiya consoling her mother Tarabai. (Photo: DC)
He had a great liking for Shaji (Mir Osman Ali) and made sure that all his students learnt at least one ghazal of Shaji. In one of the inner lanes near Goshamahal, the ghazal maestro used to do his riyaaz and compose songs late in the night. Clad in a cream or white-coloured kurta and pyjama, he used to start teaching his pupils from 3 pm. "I have never seen a man so gracious, friendly, scholarly and devoted to music. Never was he greedy for money, proud or cared for honours. He performed more than two dozen times abroad and there is no family in Hyderabad who does not know him. He was like a father to all his students and we miss him." He has left behind a rich legacy of ghazal gayaki, which encompasses culture, etiquette and a way of life. May his soul rest in peace.
The writer is a disciple of Pandit Vithal Rao.