• Birth NameDaniel Rasaiah
  • Date of birth Jun 2nd, 1943
  • Birth Place Pannaippuram
  • Occupation Music Director

"Maniratnam once said -Ilaiyaraaja would look at the scene once and immediately start giving notes to his assistants."

Did You

A strict disciplinarian as far as professional work is concerned - Ilaiyaraja begins his recordings sharp at 7AM in the morning every day and if any artist is a minute late - the gates of Prasad Studio are mercilessly closed!


“Music just happens, it can’t be made or produced”- These are the words of “Maestro” when asked about how he composes such masterpieces...

The name “Maestro” Ilaiyaraaja needs no elaborate introduction among the Indian Film music lovers. He is one of those stalwarts in Indian Film music who gave some unforgettable music for every listener to cherish forever. Ilaiyaraaja is perhaps the only person who redefined the way background music is scored to elevate a scene - not only in Tollywood but all across the nation. Telugu Cinema viewers are blessed to have some great gems from the Maestro for an incredibly long time.

Ilaiyaraaja is perhaps the only composer who encourages live recordings even in the modern era, and writes sheet music for every song or background score bit he composes.  Apart from being a music composer, he is also a versatile singer.  He performed across various countries and notable among them is in Vienna - regarded as the international musical hub. A gold medalist in Classical Guitar from the prestigious Trinity College, London - he is the first Asian to ever compose a full symphony performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London’s Town Hall.

Personal Life:
Ilaiyaraaja, formerly known as Daniel Rasaiah was born in Pannaippuram, a remote village in southern Tamil Nadu on 2nd June 1943. He showed early interest in music after listening to his mother singing songs every day during his childhood. The tremendous rustic influence in his folk songs later in the life explains his deep connection towards his native place.

Ilaiyaraaja married Jeeva and the couple has three children – Karthik Raja, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Bhavatarini. His brother Gangai Amaran is a musician and penned lyrics for few songs in Tamil Films.

Due to dire financial crisis his family faced during his early years, he discontinued studies and performed in communist stage shows along with his elder brothers Paavalar Varadarajan and Gangai Amaran. Rasaiah used to sing in the group and was much appreciated in towns spread across Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

He worked in the music department of a dance troupe which belonged to his friend Allinagaram Chinnasamy (Bharatiraja - the ace director of South India now!), who was also an actor. One day Chinnasamy told Rasaiah that he was interested in movies and moved to Madras to try his luck. He also promised Rasaiah that if he got any chance, he would surely call them to Madras.

This conversation changed Rasaiah’s view towards music and a new hope started sprouting in his mind. His brother Varadarajan had a harmonium and never allowed anyone to touch the instrument. After returning home he fearfully laid his hands on the harmonium and started playing it. The music that started then never stopped till date.

As promised, Chinnasamy invited Rasaiah and his brothers to Madras in 1969 and they all lived together in a single room. Veteran singer S.P.Balasubrahmanyam was also in Madras by then and was trying to gain a good name as a singer. Chinnasamy introduced Rasaiah and his brothers to SPB and when SPB asked Rasaiah to play something he knew; Rasaiah started playing “Doctor Jivago” the popular Western Classical piece. To SPB’s utter shock, Rasaiah played it with amazing perfection. This small incident showed that Rasaiah was self-made with respect to music.

Rasaiah and SPB’s friendship dates back to those days, where they used to visit a hotel and start humming tunes and try practicing whenever possible. Both of them were huge fans of M.S.Vishwanathan and eagerly awaited everyday for the veteran music director’s car (MSV 5052) just to get a glimpse of the great composer.

Rasaiah soon understood the importance of learning Western Classical Music in order to become a composer and approached Dhanraj Master for the same. The great Dhanraj Master didn’t take a single penny from Rasaiah and taught him Guitar. Rasaiah’s quest did not end with Guitar alone. He started finding interest in almost every musical instrument he could come across. By the time he became a full-time composer- Rasaiah was already equipped with every morsel of Music knowledge.  Apart from working for a popular composer G.K.Venkatesan (1969-74), he was also trying in parallel to become an independent music director.

It was Panchu Arunachalam who gave Rasaiah the much needed break for his first ever movie in Tamil - Annakili (Which was later remade as Ramachilaka in Telugu. Satyam reused all the original tunes for the film). It was time for Rasaiah to decide on the screen name for the title cards and as there were many Rajas during that time in the Film Industry, Rasaiah transformed to Ilaiyaraaja - the Music Composer!

Annakili was a huge hit just because of the songs- the music was fresh with folksy flavor along with some great melody. Ilaiyaraaja started getting nonstop offers from upcoming producers of that generation and his films also started getting dubbed into Telugu (1979). The folk chartbuster of 70s “Mabbe Masakesindhi Le” rocked Andhra Pradesh equally as it did for the original Tamil movie it was scored for

1981 was an interesting career turning point for Ilaiyaraaja as well as Telugu Cinema. Poornodaya Art Creations headed by Edidha Nageshwara Rao made Sitakoka Chiluka with Bharatiraja as the director. Ilaiyaraja composed the songs for this film which mesmerized the Telugu Audience. It was even said that the music was the sole reason for the film to get so popular.

Two years later, in 1983, a breakthrough combination in the form of Chiranjeevi, Director Kodanda Rami Reddy, Producer K.S.Rama Rao and Cinematographer Lok Singh emerged in Telugu Cinema. Ilaiyaraaja joined this amazing combination with the film “Abhilasha”. The song “Eureka” became an anthem for the youth of 80s and the fresh music from Ilaiyaraaja enthralled the Telugu Audience. Veteran director K.Vishwanath, who worked with K.V.Mahadevan for every film of his decided to work with Ilaiyaraja for Saagara Sangamam. The background score given by Ilaiyaraja for this film still remains to be one of his career best till date.  Even Bapu, one of the famous artistic directors of Telugu Cinema chose Ilaiyaraja for his project Mantrigari Viyyankudu in the same year.

In 1983, a curious gentleman named Vamshi approached Ilaiyaraaja and requested him to score for his debut movie Sitara. The latter readily agreed and the film’s double positive was made ready. When the film was watched by some of the movie celebrities- there was utter silence. The movie was very dull without any dialogues or interesting moments. Producer Edidha Nageshwara Rao also gave up on the film. But Ilaiyaraaja appreciated Vamshi saying “You have done a brilliant job, you wait and watch how I transform this film with my music!”. Even till date, Sitara is best remembered for the music and re-recording.  “Vennello Godari” song earned S.Janaki the National Award for the best female singer.

Since then Vamshi - Ilaiyaraja combination started creating new waves in Telugu Cinema. Maharshi, Anweshana, Preminchu Pelladu, Ladies Tailor and so on are just few examples of creativity from this duo. They both shared a unique rapport both personal professionally; which was why such masterpieces came into being.

Literally the 80s era was turning out to make Ilaiyaraja the undisputed choice for Music in almost every quality film which was made in Telugu Cinema.

Ram Gopal Varma debuted with Shiva having Ilaiyaraaja in music department. The background score worked wonders for the film and took it to a different level altogether. By the time Geethanjali was released, Ilaiyaraja’s picture was printed on every poster outside the theatres! Ilaiyaraja was a specialist in delivering amazing melody even in out-and-out commercial films and he did it in unmistakable style. Commercial Director K.Raghavendra Rao also worked with Ilaiyaraaja giving many blockbuster hits. Andhra Pradesh has been in a musical era since then!

Mani Ratnam’s only Telugu film Geethanjali is best remembered for Ilaiyaraaja’s music and is regarded as the best love story made in Telugu Cinema ever.

Ilaiyaraaja continues to make musical waves even with the recent mythological epic Sri Rama Rajyam and a recent feel good love story Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu.  He sincerely believes not in creating music but says it should happen instantaneously.

Interesting Facts:
  • Ilaiyaraaja started scoring even for non-film productions such as Thiruvachakam, How to Name it, Ramayana which earned high critical acclaim worldwide.
  • He follows a strict spiritual life and is a huge devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Ilaiyaraaja never misses visiting Thiruvannamalai (where Ramana Maharshi ashram is present) every year during the auspicious Karthika Pournami day.
  • A strict disciplinarian as far as professional work is concerned - Ilaiyaraja begins his recordings sharp at 7AM in the morning every day and if any artist is a minute late - the gates of Prasad Studio are mercilessly closed!
  • Ilaiyaraaja introduced some amazing singers to Film World - Chitra, Mano, Swarnalatha, Bombay Jayashree to name a few.
  • Despite being a Tamilian, his Telugu songs have an unmistakable nativity and sound so indigenous to every listener alike.
  • A school dropout academically but Ilaiyaraja can speak Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi very fluently.
  • He always composes with Harmonium initially - which was bought with his first ever salary for Rs.200/-.  
  • Many people do not know that Ilaiyaraaja is a great Photographer – along with Vamshi he explored many remote forests in Tamil Nadu through his camera during the 80s.
  • Out of four National Awards Ilaiyaraaja received, two of them are for his Telugu Films namely Sagara Sangamam (1983) and Rudraveena (1988).
  • He is the first composer to get the best background score National award in India, for the Malayalam Epic Pazhassi Raja (2009).
  • Many music directors of Telugu Cinema claim to be influenced by Ilaiyaraja’s work - namely Vidyasagar, Keeravani, Raj-Koti, Mani Sharma, and Devi Sri Prasad. Infact Manisharma and Devi Sri Prasad have Ilaiyaraaja’s picture in their respective recording studios even today.
  • His children Karthik Raja, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Bhavatarini are also Music Composers.
  • A.R.Rahman worked with Ilaiyaraaja as a Keyboardist for few years during early 80s.
  • The song “Naguva Nayana” from a Kannada film Pallavi Anupallavi is used as the theme for Idea Cellular all over the country.
  • During one discussion with Veturi for Akhari Poratam song composing- Ilaiyaraja randomly played a rhythm and asked Veturi to write lyrics based on the sound. The song is “Eppudu Eppudu”.
  • Composed the songs for Balakrishna starrer Aditya 369 in 30 minutes.
  • Used exclusive percussion instruments brought from abroad during 80s for films like Anveshana, Gharshana (Agni Nakshatram) and so on.
  • The first 12 track recording system in Telugu Cinema was first used in Ilaiyaraaja’s album Kondaveeti Donga (1991)
  • An ardent admirer and friend of veteran Carnatic exponent M.Balamurali Krishna, frequently approaches to clear doubts in Carnatic compositions.
Mani Ratnam, the versatile Indian Film maker once said:

"Ilaiyaraaja would look at the scene once, and immediately start giving notes to his assistants hovering around him, who would collect the notes for their instrument and go to their places. When the orchestra played out the notes, they would be perfect, not just in harmony but also in timing — the background score would commence exactly where it should and end at the exact place required. Ilaiyaraaja is a genius, who could compose music with just one look at the scene."

Musical Influences:
Bach, Mozart, Weather Report, Franz Schubert, Saint Thyagaraja, Mutthuswami Dikshitar, S.D.Burman, and Salil Chaudhary.

Music Style:
Ilaiyaraaja’s music style is an interesting blend of Western Orchestration along with Indian Flavor in equal proportions. Bass Guitar plays a prime role in most of his songs which created the so-called Ilaiyaraaja stamp among the listeners.  The music style is so unique that some analysts term it as the “Ilaiyaraaja” genre. His music reflects a broad range of genres ranging from Jazz, Western, Classical, Carnatic, Hindustani, Techno, Country and so on.

Upcoming Projects:
Ulavacharu Biryani- May 2014- Director: Prakash Raj
Rudramadevi – 2014- Director: Gunasekhar

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