27 Interesting Facts about Ilayaraja

Ilayaraja, born Gnanathesikan Rasaiya on June 2, 1943, in Pannaipuram, Tamil Nadu, India, is a renowned Indian composer, conductor-arranger, singer, and songwriter. He is often hailed as one of the greatest music composers in the Indian film industry, particularly in South Indian cinema. Ilayaraja’s musical journey began at a young age, and he later honed his skills at Trinity College of Music in London, UK. His versatile talents span across various genres, including Indian classical, folk, western, and fusion music.

Ilayaraja made his debut in the film industry in 1976 with the Tamil film “Annakili,” and from thereon, he rapidly rose to prominence. His contribution to Indian cinema is immeasurable, composing music for over 1,000 films in various languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, and Hindi. He is well-known for his unique ability to blend classical elements with modern tunes, creating soulful compositions that resonate with a wide audience.

One of Ilayaraja’s distinguishing features is his mastery over orchestration, seamlessly blending traditional instruments with modern technology to produce rich, melodious soundscapes. He has also excelled in background scores, adding depth and emotion to many memorable cinematic moments. Throughout his career, Ilayaraja has received numerous awards and honors for his exceptional contributions to music, including five National Film Awards and several state awards.

Beyond films, Ilayaraja has composed numerous non-film albums, thematic pieces, and symphonies, showcasing his diverse musical abilities. He remains an iconic figure and a source of inspiration for aspiring musicians, leaving an indelible mark on the world of music through his timeless compositions.


Ilayaraja (Wikimedia)

Here are 27 interesting facts about Ilayaraja to give more information about him.

  1. Early Life and Education: Ilayaraja was born as Gnanathesikan Rasaiya on June 2, 1943, in Pannaipuram, Tamil Nadu, India. He displayed an early interest in music and learned to play various musical instruments.
  2. Name Change: He changed his name to R. Gnanathesikan as a tribute to his mother, who passed away when he was just a teenager.
  3. Diverse Musical Talents: Ilayaraja is a multi-talented artist, proficient in playing a wide range of musical instruments, including the guitar, piano, harmonium, and Indian classical instruments like veena and flute.
  4. Trinity College of Music: Ilayaraja pursued a diploma in Western classical music from Trinity College of Music, London. He was the first Asian to receive a distinction in a course at the college.
  5. Film Debut: His debut film as a music composer was the Tamil movie “Annakili” in 1976, which was a massive success and established him as a prominent composer.
  6. Prolific Composer: Ilayaraja has composed music for over 1,000 films in various Indian languages.
  7. Innovator in Music: He is known for introducing innovative orchestration techniques and integrating traditional Indian music with western styles, setting new standards in film music composition.
  8. Record Label: Ilayaraja founded a record label called “Echo Records” in the 1970s, through which he released some of his early non-film albums.
  9. Raja’s Gospel Music: He composed a Christian devotional album titled “Raja’s Gospel” in 1984, showcasing his versatility in different musical genres.
  10. Pioneering Symphony: Ilayaraja composed a full-length symphony titled “Ratnavali” in 1992, making him the first Asian to compose a full symphony.
  11. National Film Awards: He has won five National Film Awards for Best Music Direction for various films.
  12. Collaboration with K. Balachander: Ilayaraja had a long and successful collaboration with director K. Balachander, composing music for over 40 films directed by him.
  13. Influence on New Generation: Many contemporary composers and musicians cite Ilayaraja as a significant influence on their work, acknowledging his contribution to Indian music.
  14. Musical Mentor: He mentored several successful composers, including A.R. Rahman, who started his career as a keyboardist in Ilayaraja’s musical troupe.
  15. Instrumental Album: Ilayaraja released an instrumental album titled “How To Name It?” in 1986, showcasing his prowess in composing without lyrics.
  16. Versatility in Languages: He has composed music in various languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, and more.
  17. Raja Geetham: He composed a symphony titled “Raja Geetham” for the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1993, further showcasing his international reach.
  18. Filmfare Awards: Ilayaraja has won multiple Filmfare Awards for Best Music Director in various languages.
  19. Collaboration with SPB: Ilayaraja had a long-standing collaboration with renowned playback singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, creating numerous hit songs together.
  20. Recognition from Government: He has been honored with several state government awards for his contribution to music.
  21. Musical Academies: Ilayaraja established “Raja Annamalai Mandram” in Chennai, an academy dedicated to promoting music education.
  22. Padma Vibhushan: In 2018, he was honored with the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, in recognition of his exceptional contributions to music.
  23. Personal Record Studio: He owns a state-of-the-art music recording studio called “Prasad Studios” in Chennai.
  24. Global Performances: Ilayaraja has conducted live concerts and performances in various countries, captivating audiences worldwide.
  25. Documentary: A documentary titled “I Am God” showcases the life and work of Ilayaraja, providing insights into his musical journey.
  26. Humble Beginnings: Despite his immense success, Ilayaraja maintains a humble lifestyle and often prefers to stay away from the limelight.
  27. Charitable Work: Ilayaraja is involved in several charitable activities, contributing to causes related to education and healthcare.

Ilayaraja, a musical maestro with an illustrious career spanning over four decades, stands as a beacon of innovation and artistic brilliance in the Indian music industry. His extraordinary ability to blend diverse musical genres and create timeless compositions has earned him a special place in the hearts of music enthusiasts not only in India but across the globe. From his humble beginnings to becoming a Padma Vibhushan awardee, Ilayaraja’s journey is a testament to the power of talent, perseverance, and the transformative impact of music. His melodies continue to resonate with generations, leaving an indelible mark on the world of music, and his legacy remains a source of inspiration for aspiring musicians and composers alike.