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Maestro Ilayaraja - Great Composer of Tamil Nadu

Updated on October 25, 2014

A Musical Genius in Tamil Film Industry

Ilayaraja a famous musician come singer from Tamil Nadu. 'Raja', as he is commonly known and lovingly called, comes from a family of musicians.

He has composed more than 850 albums in Indian film industry right through his career of more than 25 years. 'Raja', as he is commonly known and lovingly called, comes from a family of musicians.

He is also known as 'Isaingyani' which means a 'Musical Genius' in Tamil Film Industry. He was from a rural family and background. He achieved the highest position in the musical world of Tamil Nadu.

Photo courtesy: Photobucket

Who Is Ilayaraja?


Ilayaraja was born on June 2, 1943 in a countryside family. Born and brought up in a little known village 'Pannaipuram' near Kambam in South part of Tamil Nadu. Ilayaraja's mother, a huge storehouse of Tamil folk songs, seems to be a very strong inspiration in his music.

He was exposed to a span of Tamil folk music. At first he learned to play the harmonium, the typical musical instrument used in street performances. At the age of 14, he joined in a travelling musical group headed by his stepbrother Pavalar Varadarajan, and spent the next decade performing throughout Southern part of India.

Raja picked up most of his intelligence for audience tastes during this period. Raja didn't have good education but after an acknowledgment in Tamil cinema industry he did 'Classical Guitar' course in Trinity College of Music, London. He got a gold medal in this course.

In his first movie he fused Tamil Film Music and Tamil Folk Music. He was one who first to do that attempt and got succeeded. He got National Best Film Music Composer awards and bagged many awards in regional level. His music was of great individuality as he combined Western and Indian instruments.

Om Sivogam - Ilayaraja's Latest Hit.

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His Cinema Career

In the year 1969, Ilayaraja shifted to Chennai, the South Indian Cinema capital. He was 29 years old, looking for a break into film industry. Here he studied playing the guitar and piano in the Western style under Dhanraj Master. Ilayaraja's break into film music came with the famous movie 'Annakili '(1976).

This film was a village story, in which Ilayaraja composed impressive folk melodies. The songs bid simplicity and musicality mainstream of Tamil folk music in a realistic way, and they presented new sounds, rich orchestration typical of Western music.

The songs became hit; the most admired one was the song "Machchana Partheengala" sung by a female singer, S. Janaki. This was keeps on by a series of movies that exposed existing Tamil villages in an accurate way.

For all of these movies Raja composed remarkable songs. Most well-liked songs were "Senthoorappove" and "Aatukkutti Mutaiyittu" from the film 'Pathinaru Vayathinile' (1977).

Ilayaraja's Sensational Hits

His Symphony

He composed 'Thiruvasagam', which is an old Tamil Spiritual Literature, in his symphony for Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO). Ilayaraja composed his symphony with a high-profile squad of musicians and sound engineers and they are from Budapest Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Laszlo kovacs and Oscar winning Lyricist Stephen Schwartz along with five time Grammy-award winner for sound engineer, Richard King.

He did this symphony principally to fascinate younger generations to Tamil Nadu's spiritual traditions. This album was released on June 30, 2005 at the Music Academy in Chennai. The CD of this album was also released in US in the 'Tamizhar Thiruvizha' (Tamil's Festival).

Thiruvasagam - in Rajas Music

Photo courtesy: Photobucket

His Music Style

Ilaiyaraaja was one who used Western classical music harmonies and string arrangements in Indian film music. This let him to craft a rich tapestry of sounds for movies he worked, and his themes. His background score obtained notice and admiration along with Indian film audiences.

This range of expressive options in Indian film music was expanded by Ilayaraja's systematic approach to arranging, recording technique. He is familiar for his ideas drawing techniques from a diversity of musical styles. Ilaiyaraaja has composed Indian film songs that fused elements of genres such as Afro-tribal, acoustic guitar-propelled Western folk, bossa nova, jazz, disco music, pop music, flamenco, funk, Indian classical and rock and roll etc.

According to notable Musicologist P. Greene, Ilaiyaraaja's "deep understanding of so many different styles of music allowed him to create syncretic pieces of music combining very different musical idioms in unified, coherent musical statements"

Ilayaraja's Speech - Vid

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      TanoCalvenoa 3 years ago

      This is very interesting. Thank you for making people worldwide aware of this music, who otherwise might not know about it.

    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 4 years ago

      I loved learning about this musician. Wonderful lens.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      @anonymous: yes. he is my fav music director. thanks for stopping by

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Maestro ILAYARAJA is definitely one of the talented musicians, South India ever had.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have always loved classical Tamil music, it is melodious. Ilayaraja is definitely one of the many talented musicians that this region had.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Shouted on FB

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      "A rich tapestry of sounds" indeed by a musical genius. That 8 minutes of Nothing But Wind went so fast that I had to do it again....a wonderful tribute to Ilayaraja!

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      Didge 5 years ago

      I really loved this lens. Also, beautifully presented sukkran.

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 6 years ago from London, England

      Great lens. Very interesting

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      I always love to learn new music and composers. Nice tribute.

    • rewards4life info profile image

      rewards4life info 6 years ago

      I've never heard of Ilayaraja before, his music is beautiful. I love discovering new music there are so many talented people out there, I'm pleased you brought him to my attention. He has had such an amazing career, 850 albums that's unreal. What a great lens on a very talented musician.

    • Jhangora LM profile image

      Jhangora LM 6 years ago

      I havn't heard much of his music, but did like the songs of Dalpati.

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      Nathalie Roy 7 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I always love to discover new music and artist. Thanks for the intro!

    • Bus Stop Toy Shop profile image

      Bus Stop Toy Shop 7 years ago

      I'd never come across him before - thanks for a great introduction :)