One of the finest music composer of India, Ilaiyaraaja was born on 2nd June 1943 in a poor Christian converted family of Pannaipuram, Tamil Nadu. Continuing to be a Hindu devout, he grew up in a rural village, where he got exposed to Tamil folk music. On his mother's insistence, he went on to acquire music classes from Dhanraj Master, who gave him lessons in western classical music and also renamed him as "Raaja".
At the tender age of 14, he joined his elder brother's traveling musical troupe. Ilaiyaraaja's struggle further lead him to work as a music assistant to composers like Salil Chowdhury and G. K. Venkatesh. In his budding days, he used to hire music instruments from R. K. Shekhar, the late father of A. R. Rahman.
Producer Panchu Arunachalam gave him his first break to compose the songs of his film 'Annakkili'. The entire film score composed by him proved to be superficial with the unique blend of Western and Tamil phrases. Then there was no looking back of this great musician, where in the 1980s, he rose to power working with the renowned singers and lyricists. Till date, he has composed more than 4500 songs and has provided film scores to more than 950 Indian films. Though, his niche is in Tamil film industry, yet he has applied his midas touch to the compositions of other languages like Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi and Hindi.
Ilaiyaraaja owns a gold medal for performing classical guitar from the prestigious Trinity College of Music, London. He has earned his sheer fame being the first Asian to compose full symphony performed by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He is renowned for his versatility and his inter-fusion of Western, Indian folk and Carnatic music.
Ilaiya's composition of "Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu" from the 1991 film Tamil blockbuster 'Thalapathi' is considered by BBC as the world's Top 10 most popular tracks of all times. Also, hip-hopper band "The Black Eyed Peas" and the UK's rapper M.I.A. have used his compositions in their raps. Ilaiyaraaja had tabbed notes even for Bollywood films like 'Sadma', 'Cheeni Kum' and 'Paa'.
Since 2000, Ilaiyaraaja has mainly worked on variety of non-film music, including devotional music, operas and world music. He is also famous for his non-filmy albums like 'How To Name It', 'Nothing But Wind' and many others. He has his fan following all around the world for his exceptional music style. He owns number of awards recognized nationally and internationally. In 2010, he was honoured with Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian award by the Government of India.
Ilaiyaraaja was married to Jeeva, who died on 31st October 2011 and has three children namely, Karthik Raja, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Bhavatharani R.. All of them are renowned music composers and singers.