Ilaiyaraaja (born Gnanathesikan; 2 June 1943) is an Indian film composer, singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, orchestrator, conductor-arranger and lyricist who works in the Indian Film Industry, predominantly in Tamil. Widely regarded as one of the greatest Indian music composers, he is credited for introducing western musical sensibilities in the Indian musical mainstream. Reputed to be the world’s most prolific composer, he has composed over 7000 songs, provided film scores for more than 1000 movies and performed in more than 20,000 concerts. Being the first Asian to compose a full symphony with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, Ilaiyaraaja is known to have written the entire symphony in less than a month. He is also a gold medalist in classical guitar from Trinity College of Music, London, Distance Learning Channel. In a poll conducted by CNN-IBN celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema in 2013, Ilaiyaraaja was voted as the all-time greatest film-music director of India. US-based world cinema portal “Taste of Cinema” placed Ilaiyaraaja at the 9th position in its list of 25 greatest film composers in the history of cinema and he is the only Indian composer in that list.
Ilaiyaraaja is known for integrating Indian folk music and traditional Indian instrumentation with western classical music techniques. His scores are often performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. He is a recipient of five Indian National Film Awards – three for Best Music Direction and two for Best Background Score. In 2010, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian honour in India and the Padma Vibhushan in 2018, the second-highest civilian award by the government of India. In 2012, he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest Indian recognition given to practising artists, for his creative and experimental works in the music field.
In 2003, according to an international poll conducted by BBC, more than half-a million people from 165 countries voted his composition Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu from the 1991 film Thalapathi as the fourth in the world’s top 10 most popular songs of all time. According to Achille Forler, board member of the Indian Performing Right Society, the kind of stellar body of work that Ilaiyaraaja has created in the last 40 years should have placed him among the world’s Top 10 richest composers, somewhere between Andrew Lloyd Webber ($1.2 billion) and Mick Jagger (over $300 million).
Ilaiyaraaja is nicknamed Isaignani (The musical genius in English) and often referred as Maestro, the prestigious title conferred by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London. The critically acclaimed Thiruvasagam (2006) is the first Indian oratorio composed by Ilaiyaraaja. Winner of numerous accolades, one of his compositions was part of the playlist for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, directed by acclaimed Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire fame.[