Ilayaraja: Pannaiyapuram to Padma Vibhushan

By M Bharat Kumar Published on Jun 02, 2018 02:55 PM IST

Puthu Ragam Padaipathale Nanum Iraivane ...

Viralilum Kuralilum Swarangalin Nattiyam Amaippen Nan...

No wonder Ilayaraja's fans call him 'God of Music'. In his musical journey spanning over 40 years, he has come up with mindboggling 5,000-odd songs, introduced hundreds of new talent and went on to win national and international accolades. He is credited to have discovered a new raga. That's 'Raaga Devan' Ilayaraja.

In the 1970s, after the State saw anti-Hindi protests, the biggest irony was that there was a craze for Hindi songs here. Tea stalls and barber shops were blaring numbers from Bollywood movies and the likes of R D Burman, Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar were the talk of the town.

Came young Ilayaraja with Annakili in May 1976. And the rest is history. Machana Patheengala... became an instant anthem and it replaced the Kishore Kumars and Burmans not just in weddings but also gramophones in every household.

The song was picturised on Sujatha, with S Janaki rendering her voice, and it was about the heroine’s love for the hero expressed in poetic terms with a touch of humour and lyrical beauty. The shy and timid looking Ilayaraja became the face of Tamil cinema overnight with offers knocking on his doors.

Says Kannan, a die-hard fan of Ilayaraja, 'The radios in the street used to play his song from Annakili and people used to gather just to listen to it. The movie saw very little crowd on the first day of its release. As the songs slowly became a raging hit, Annakili witnessed houseful shows and became a blockbuster."

He adds, "It was a delight for filmmakers to associate themselves with Ilayaraja. The likes of Bharathiraja (beginning 16 Vayathinilae), K Balachander, who until then worked with MSV and V Kumar, Balu Mahendra, Mahendran and Mani Ratnam among others got the best out of Raja. Strikingly fresh and different from his predecessors, he managed to carve a niche for himself."

"Those who worked him would say that he was the biggest creator with fertile imagination but a monster at work. Today, when music composers take at least a coupe of weeks to record one particular number even though technology has taken over creativity, Ilayaraja managed the impossible. He completed music score for almost 3-4 films a day in various languages those days. The musical notes that he wrote would be instant and fresh," says veteran tabla player Kannaiah.

A small room at Prasad Labs in Vadapalani was the seat of music. Ilayaraja would spend almost the whole day and filmmakers and producers would wait outside with bated breath for the maestro to glance at them when he steps out for lunch.

Filmmaker Sundararajan, who did films like Vaidehi Kathirundhal, Payangal Mudivathillai, Rajadhi Raja and Amman Koil Kizhakale, said, "Our success was assured the moment Ilayaraja agreed to compose music for our films. He not only has rich knowledge of music but the ease with which he comes up with lyrics was amazing."

For Murali, an industry tracker for almost three decades, "Ilayaraja was synonymous with music. His devotion to it was phenomenal. Dubbed initially as music composer who could only bring rural flavour (gramathu isai), he disproved everyone with his profound classical knowledge. He was so much versed in Carnatic music that even stalwarts like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer had heaped praise on him."

"For a man to come thus far from a remote village called Pannaiyapuram and achieve so much is no mean task. He simplified Tamil film music. He gave it global recognition. Had there been Twitter, WhatsApp, music channels in abundance then like today, Ilayaraja could have been there in a different world with the universe at his feet," he adds.

Ilayaraja's life has a message for all: Be true to your profession. Stay imaginative and be unique.

Coming to the first lines of this article, with so much under his hat and still going strong and steady, those lines set to tunes by him in Nizhalgal would sit well on him. Raja is always Raja.

The plethora of wishes to Ilayaraja on his 75th birthday today stands testimony to the millions who walk, laugh, cry and sleep with his magical, musical works.


President Ramnath Kovind today greeted Ilayaraja on his 75th birthday. He tweeted in Tamil, 'Birthday greetings to the peerless Ilayaraja, musician, composer and an extraordinary artiste who defines India’s rhythms. Honoured to have formally awarded him the Padma Vibhushan earlier this year.' Meanwhile, fans in large numbers met Ilayaraja today and greeted him.