Ilaiyaraaja (born Gnanathesikan) is an Indian film composer who works in the South Indian cinema but predominantly in Tamil since the late 1970s. Regarded as one of the greatest music composers in India, Ilaiyaraaja is also an instrumentalist, conductor, singer, and songwriter. He has composed more than 6000 songs and provided film scores for more than 1000 films, particularly being acclaimed for his background scores.
Singers S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra and S. Janaki have sung more of his songs than any other singers. He integrated folk—in Tamil—and introduced western musical sensibilities into the South Indian musical mainstream. Ilaiyaraja is also known for creating music by fusing symphonic orchestration with traditional Indian instrumentation, often performed by Budapest Symphony Orchestra. In 1993 he organised a full symphony performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and thus became the First Indian to compose a full symphony, with Ravi Shankar being the only other Indian to do so. He is also the first Asian to compose a full symphony performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He has won five Indian National Film Awards (the highest film honor in India); three for Best Music Direction and two for Best Background Score. In 2010 he has received Padma Bhushan, awarded by the Government of India.
In the 2000s, he composed a variety of non-film music, including religious and devotional songs, an oratorio, and world music. He is usually referred to by the title Isaignani (English: Musical Genius), or as The Maestro. Ilaiyaraja is a gold medalist in classical guitar from Trinity College of Music, London. In 2003, according to an international poll conducted by BBC, people from 155 countries voted his composition Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu from the 1991 film Thalapathi as fourth in the world's top 10 most popular songs of all time. He was also nominated in the Best Indian album Music Awards category at US based Just Plain Folks Music Organization, which is the largest grassroots music organization in the world, and stood third for his "Music Journey: Live in Italy". In 2012 he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his creative and experimental works in music field. In 2014 he has been chosen for his outstanding contribution to the Indian film music and was awarded the SIES Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati National Eminence award. In 2015, he was also honoured with the Centenary Award for lifetime achievement at the 46th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at Panaji, Goa. On December 31, 2015, he was nominated by the Kerala Government for Nishagandi Puraskaram, the top award conferred by the Kerala Government's Tourism Ministry, for his artistic excellence and contributions to the Indian film industry.
Popular world cinema portal Taste of Cinema placed Ilaiyaraja at the 9th position in its list of 25 greatest film composers in the cinema history. In a poll conducted by CNN-IBN celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema in 2013, Ilaiyaraaja was voted as the greatest music composer of India with a maximum of 49%. In 2016, Ilaiyaraaja received a Distinguished Engineer award from the Rocheston Accreditation Institute, New York.