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Ilaiyaraaja (born June 2, 1943) is the world's most prolific film music composer, having composed for over 750 films over a career of more than 28 years.

Ilaiyaraaja was born in a poor rural family in Pannaiapuram near Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. Although he did not have any formal education, he completed a course in classical guitar (higher local) with a gold medal at the Trinity College of Music in London.

His first movie, Annakilli, was instrumental in bringing about a fusion of Tamil folk music and Tamil film music. He won the national Best Film Music Composer award three times for Saagara Sangamam (1984), Sindhu Bhairavi (1986) and Rudra Veena (1988). He is the first Asian to compose a full symphony for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO). His music is mainly associated with the '80s, the decade during which he was most prolific. After his symphony he was came to be called by the name Maestro Ilaiyaraaja. Kalaignar M.Karunanidhi christened him Isai Gnani (translates to Musical Genius).

Illayaraaja is credited with a truly unique orchestration technique, which involves blending of western and Indian instruments. He usually comes up with a tune initially and the lyrics are added later on. This composing technique was used by him for the first time India, today it has become a norm. Some crtitics blame this style for the poor quality of lyrics in the Indian film industry today.

Besides scoring music for Tamil and other Indian films, Ilaiyaraaja has written two fusion albums, blending western classical with Carnatic raagas. The first, How To Name It?, was dedicated to Carnatic composer Tyagaraja and Johann Sebastian Bach. The title of the second, Nothing But Wind, suggests that music is a natural phenomenon akin to wind. Ilaiyaraaja has also composed a set of Classical Carnatic numbers which U. Srinivas has played. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, one of the doyens of Carnatic Music acknowledged and appreciated this album for the appropriate selection of Ragas and Sahityams.


While he has developed associations with Carnatic musicians like Mangalampalli BalaMuraliKrishna and T.V. Gopalakrishnan, he has also come in for some flak from conservative Carnatic music fans for retuning some of Tyagaraja's compositions. He invented a raga by name Panchamukhi which is looked at by some of the Carnatic Purists as faux and by the general crowd as an Achievement.

In 2002, his compostion "Rakkama Kaiya Thattu" from the movie Dhalapathi stayed at the top of a BBC list of the best songs for quite a while, before finishing at 4th place. Poll Home (

He was the music composer for the Miss World 1996 Pageantry, held in Bangalore. His latest hit is Mumbai Xpress (2005), with several strong elements that give it a Jazz appeal.

He is currently working on a Oratorio, based on the Tamil religious classic - Thiruvasakam which is expected to release on June 30th, 2005.


Personal Life

Ilaiyaraaja's birth name is Gnanadesikan and in school records Rasaiya. His family suffered from poverty after his father Ramasamy died prematurely. His brother Ganghei Amaran (by birth Amarsingh) is also a composer and a song writer.

Ilaiyaraaja is married to Jeeva and the couple have 3 children. Their two sons Karthik Raja and Yuvan Shankar Raja are both composers, and their daughter Bhavatharini is a singer and composer.

Ilaiyaraaja also loves writing poetry and has written the lyrics for some songs in not only Tamil but also in Hindi! He also loves Photography. Ilaiyaraaja is a spiritual person and has also composed several Devotional songs on Ramana Maharishi.

His Successful Tamil Film Albums

  • 16 Vayathinilae (has National Award winning song "Sendhoora Poove" sung by S. Janaki)
  • Agni Natchatram
  • Alaigal Oivathillai
  • Anjali (500th Film)
  • Azhagi (has National Award winning song "Paattu solli pada solli" sung by Sadhana Sargam)
  • Bharathi (has National Award winning song "Mayil pola" sung by Bhavatharini Illayaraja)
  • Chinna Thambi
  • Dalapathi
  • Devar Magan (600th Film - has National Award winning song " Inji Idupazhaga" sung by S. Janaki and Kamal Hassan)
  • Ejamaan
  • Guna
  • Hey Ram
  • Karakaatakaran
  • Mouna Ragam
  • Nineivellam Nithya
  • Idhayam
  • Idhaya Koil
  • Johnny
  • Kadolara Kavithaikal
  • Mannan
  • Mella Thiranthathu Kathavu (scored music along with M.S.Vishwanathan)
  • Moondram Pirai
  • Mudhal Mariyathai (has National Award winning song "Poongatru Thirumbuma" lyrics by Vairamuthu)
  • Mumbai Xpress
  • Nallavanukku Nallavan
  • Nayakan
  • Nizhalgal
  • Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal
  • Punnagai Mannan
  • Salangai Oli (has National Award winning song "Thagida Thathimi" sung by SP Balasubramaniam and National award for Illayaraaja)
  • Sigappu Rojakkal
  • Sinthu Bhairavi (winning National Award)
  • Siraichaalai
  • Siva
  • Tic..Tic..Tic..
  • Udhaya Geetham
  • Velaikaaran

His Other Albums

  • How to name it? (
  • Nothing But Wind ( (Flute played by Hariprasad Chaurasia)
  • Rajavin Ramanamaalai
  • Illayaraja's Geethanjali
  • India 24 Hours

His Literary Works

  • Sangeetha Kanavugal (Musical Dreams - about European tour)
  • Vettaveli thanil kotti kidakkuthu (Poems)
  • Vazhithunai
  • Gnagna Ganga
  • Paal Nila Paathai
  • Unmaikku Thirai Yethu?
  • Yaarukku Yaar Ezhuthuvathu?
  • En Narambu Veenai

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