Early Life and Entry into Music FieldIlayaraja the legend of the music world is a veteran music director of the South Indian film industry. Ilayaraja was born in a very family in a remote village named Pannaipuram in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu. He was born on June 2, 1943 who spent most of his childhood along with nature in Pannaipuram which was one of the main reasons for music to be instilled in him. His original name was Gnanadesikan and was born to father Ramaswamy and mother Chinnathayammal. Being in a village he was very much conversant with the folk and native music of the village area. "Gnanadesikan" became "Rajaiya" when his father put him in the school, but the people of the village called him as "Raasayya". "Raasayya" once again became "Raja" after he joined Dhanraj Master as a student to learn musical instruments. It was master Dhanraj changed his named his name to Raja. But however the pounding name Ilayaraja was given to him by the Tamil film producer Panchu Arunachalam who prefixed the name Raja with Ilaiya which means younger in Tamil language because there was one more music director in the name M. Rajah during the 1970's.
This happened at the time of his first movie Annakili. His exposure to native folk music was much more for he grew up in a rural area. When he was fourteen years he joined the musical troupe owned by his step brother Pavalar Varadarajan who travelled to different places performing stage orchestras and for the next ten years he was with his brother. While working with the troupe, he penned his first composition, a musical adaptation of an elegy written by the Tamil poet laureate Kannadasan for Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister. Along with professor Dhanraj, Ilaiyaraja began his first music course in Chennai in the year 1968. This music itinerary included a summary of Western classical music, compositional training in techniques such as counterpoint, and study in instrumental performance. Ilaiyaraja has learnt the classical guitar music and also later he took a specialization course in it from the Trinity College of Music, London. Ilayaraja takes the credit of composing at least 4000 songs and worked in over 800 films, in a period of about three decades. He is not only noted among the public as a music composer but also as an instrumentalist, conductor, singer, and a songwriter.
He has composed more than 4500 songs and is the only composer in the history of cinema to provide film scores for over 1000 films, particularly being acclaimed for his background scoring. We can even say that there are number of movies which became box office hits mainly because of his songs and background scores. He is recognized and appreciated by the people for setting a trend for film music in South India, by introducing Western musical nuances into songs. He has not only worked for the Tamil Music industry but also for other language films like Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. He is been accredited with the title of "Isaignani" which means savant of music or the most learned person of music. Ilayaraja was married to Jeeva who passed away recently on 31 October 2011. He has three children Karthik Raja, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Bhavatharini. All three children of him are married and they are also associated with music for they sing and compose for films. Ilaiyaraaja has a brother Gangai Amaran, who is also a music director and lyricistin Tamil film industry..
CareerIlayraja started his career as an Instrumentalist. At the age of 29 and in 1969 Ilayaraja moved to the city of Madras looking for a break in the field of Music. During the early 70's Ilayaraja played a role as an instrumentalist where he worked as a guitarist with a band-for-hire. After he slowly moved into a session guitarist and keyboardist heading an orchestra team for the then popular music composers like Salil Chowdhury. Later he teamed as an assistant music director to the Kannada music composer G K Venkatesh and worked for more than 200 films. Simultaneously he also worked on his own music composition. He listened to his own compositions by asking the session musicians to play snippet from his scores. He also worked on with various other musical instruments by hiring it. He mainly hired it from R K Shekhar who is none other than the great musician AR Rahman’s father. It was through this link A.R. Rahman initially joined the troupe of Ilayaraja as a keyboardist in his orchestra. Ilayaraja got a break in his career with the movie called Annakilli in Tamil in the year 1975 when he was offered a chance by the film producer Panchu Arunachalam to work for the song composing and for background scores.
For the soundtrack, Ilaiyaraaja applied the techniques of modern popular film music orchestration to Tamil folk poetry and folk song melodies, which created a fusion of Western and Tamil idioms. Ilaiyaraaja's use of Tamil music in his film scores injected new influence into the Indian film score milieu. His music for debut movie was a major hit and reached all classes of audience. Most of his folk melodies became all time favorite of his fans. Ilayaraja has worked with almost all the veterans in the line of lyrics were their combination along with Ilayaraja became a major hit. He has worked with great poets and lyricists such as Kannadasan, Vaali, Vairamuthu, O. N. V. Kurup, Sreekumaran Thampi, Veturi Sundararama Murthy, Aacharya Aatreya, Sirivennela Sitaramasastri, Chi.
Udaya Shankar and Gulzar. Also there were a group of audience who used to wait for his music and background score with veteran South Indian movie directors like Bharathiraja, K. Balachander, Mani Ratnam, Sathyan Anthikkad, Priyadarshan, Fazil, Balu Mahendra, Vamsy, K. Vishwanath, Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and R. Balki. Ilayaraja gave continuous hits after his debut movie Annakilli in 1976, like “Pathinaru Vayathinile” (1977), “Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri” (1977) and “Annai Oru Aalayam” (1979), was amongst the super hits during the initial years of his career as a music director. For nearly a decade and 1980's Ilayaraja gave beautiful composition of sooper dooper musical hits and was recognized with repute amongst the topmost music composers of South Indian film industry. Some of his hits in the 1980's are “Moondram Pirai” (1982), “Payanangal Mudivathillai” (1982), “Munthanai Mudichu” (1984), “Sagara Sangamam” (1983), “Nallavanukku Nallavan” (1984), “Muthal Mariyathai” (1985), “Padikkathavan” (1985), “Sindhu Bhairavi” (1986), “Mouna Ragam” (1986), “Punnagai Mannan” (1986), “Nayakan” (1987), “Apoorva Sahodarargal” (1989) and “Rudra Veenai” (1989). Also in the 90's he has given some evergreen hits which even today given a choice will be the most wanted songs. These songs have brought in a number of honours, recognition and awards for him.They are Anjali” (1990), “Thalapathi” (1991), “Michael Madana Kamarajan” (1991), “Guna” (1992), “Thevar Magan” (1992), “Magalir Mattum” (1994), “Sirai Chaalai” (1996) and “Sethu” (1999). His performing skill and agility to music did not stop only with Tamil Music Industry but also proved his dexterity in other languages like Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Hindi film industries too. Some of Ilayaraja's album includes "How to Name it" and "Nothing but Wind," which were well-received in India and abroad. In 1993, he wrote a symphony for the London Philharmonic Orchestra in an amazing one-month span.
Recent PerformancesPredominantly Ilayaraja used more of the orchestration technique which is featured by the blend of Western and Indian instruments and musical modes. The technology used by him was fusion of synthesizers, electric guitars and keyboards, drum machines, rhythm boxes and MIDI with large orchestras that feature traditional instruments such as the veena, venu, nadaswaram, dholak, mridangam and tabla as well as Western lead instruments such as saxophones and flutes. All these turned out to be melodically unique in its own way. Ilayaraja has worked with great playback singers like S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. J. Yesudas, S. Janaki, Jayachandran, K. S. Chithra, Minmini, Jency, Swarnalatha, S. P. Sailaja, T. M. Soundararajan, P. Susheela, Sujatha, Malaysia Vasudevan, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, Hariharan, Udit Narayan, Sadhana Sargam and Shreya Ghoshal.
After the birth of the millenium Ilayaraja reduced the number of movies he was working with to a handfull, but still his magic spell was felt in the air. Some of Ilayaraja's live performance was a major crowd puller. His first live performance was in 16 October 2005 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai. A television channel did a program of ex post facto named "Ithu Ilaiyaraja " dating his career. The Jaya TV channel telecasted his program as Enrendrum Raja which he performed at the audio release function of Dhoni film on 28 December 2011 at Jahawarlal Nehru Indoor Stadium, Chennai. On February 16, 2013, Ilayaraja made his first appearance in North America performing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada.