Ilaiyaraaja is a renowned film composer, known around the world for his finest works. With more than 5000 songs, he is known to be one of the best composers India has yet to produce. Ilaiyaraaja is also widely acknowledged as a songwriter, conductor, singer, and instrumentalist. Ilaiyaraaja’s works stand out particularly due to his talent for fusing traditional Indian instrumentation with symphonic orchestration.
He was also the first Asian to organize a full symphony performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and became the first Indian to compose a complete symphony. He has won three for Best Music Direction and one for Best Background score. He had also received the Padma Bhushan, awarded by the Government of India.
Ilaiyaraaja was born on June 2, 1943, in Kambam, Theni district, Madras Presidency in Southern Tamil Nadu, India. He was named as Gnanathesikan at birth and was later changed to Ilaiyaraaja. He is married to Jeeva and had three children with the names of
Yuvan Shankar Raja
, and Bhavatharini, who are all film composers and singers. With exposure to the rural atmosphere, Ilaiyaraaja was introduced to a range of Tamil folk music.
At the age of 14, he joined a traveling musical troupe and spent the next decade performing throughout South India. He began his music training under the guidance of Professor Dhanraj. Ilaiyaraaja specialized in classical guitar and had taken a course in it at the Trinity College of Music, London. With the Tamil film Annakkili, Ilaiyaraaja got his big break in the music industry. Using his talent to combine modern popular film orchestration and Tamil folk poetry and folk song melodies, he became and instant start in the field.
His grip on the Western classical structure became evident with his masterful use of the piano, guitar and string ensembles. Later on, during a trip to Europe, he recognized Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven as his Manasika Gurus. Ilaiyaraaja amazed his listeners with the outstanding quality and quantity of his musical output. His image grew to be a unique one in the history of South Indian film industry and was soon widely known for his work both in India and abroad.
For his invention of a new Raga “Panjamugi”, Ilaiyaraaja was honored by the music academy and was requested to start the season by singing during the 1994 December musical season. He won a gold medal in classical guitar from Trinity College of Music, London. His composition for the song “Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu” from the film “Thalapathi” was recognized as the fourth in the world’s top 10 most popular songs of all time by a poll conducted by BBC for people from around 155 countries.
In 2012, for his creativity and experimental works in the music field, Ilaiyaraaja received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. He was voted the greatest music composer of India with a maximum of 49% by a poll conducted by CNN-IBN celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema in 2013. Ilaiyaraaja is well known to steal the hearts of the public with his incredible music. His contribution to the field is recognized and reserved as one of the best throughout the world.
With his enchanting brilliance, Ilaiyaraaja offered composition to some of the best movies ever. His noted work led him to compose music for international events such as the 1996 Miss World beauty pageant that was held in Bangalore, India, and for a documentary called India 24 Hours. Ilaiyaraaja’s work, though mostly centered around Tamil, is also available in various other languages including Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, English, Marathi, Sanskrit and Punjabi.