Who is a greater musician - A R Rahman or Ilaiyaraaja? This is often the focus of vigorous contention between fans of these extremely talented music directors. There are many parallels in their career and their lives have intertwined in interesting ways. Both hail from Tamil Nadu, and began learning music under Master Dhanraj. They were both awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian honor in 2010. Incidentally, both lost their fathers at an early age and were brought up by their mothers. Both have three children.

In his formative years, A R Rahman worked as a keyboardist in the troupe of Ilaiyaraaja and Ilaiyaraaja rented musical instruments that once belonged to Rahman's father.

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A R Rahman versus Ilaiyaraaja comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartA R RahmanIlaiyaraaja
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A R RahmanIlaiyaraaja
Awards Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan, from the Government of India. 2009 Oscar award and two Grammy Awards 25 Filmfare awards Padma Bhushan, from the Government of India. 1994 Honorary citizenship and key to the Teaneck township by Mr. John Abraham, Mayor of Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Date of birth 6 January 1966 2 June 1943
Occupations Composer, record producer, music director, singer, instrumentalist, arranger, programmer Film score composer, lyricist, music director, instrumentalist, arranger, singer
Years active 1985–present 1976–present
Origin Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India Theni, Tamil Nadu, India
Religion Muslim (born Hindu) Hindu
Place of birth Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India Pannaipuram, Theni district, Tamil Nadu, India
Education He began early training in music under Master Dhanraj. Graduated with a degree in Western classical music from the Trinity College of Music. In 1968, music course with Master Dhanraj in Chennai. A gold medalist in classical guitar from Trinity College of Music.
Instruments Keyboard, piano, guitar, harmonium and the synthesizer Keyboard, piano, guitar, harmonium
Children Three; Two daughters (Khadijah, Rahima) and a son (Aameen). Three; two sons (Karthik Raja and Yuvan Shankar Raja) and a daughter (Bhavatharini)
Spouse(s) Saira Banu Jeeva
Nickname Time magazine has referred to him as the "Mozart of Madras" and several Tamil commentators have coined him the nickname Isai Puyal (Tamil: இசைப் புயல்; English: Music Storm). Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi(1988) conferred the title Isaignani (English: A man with great knowledge in music), or as The Maestro.
Music style Carnatic music, Western classical, Hindustani music and Qawwali. Symphonic orchestral themes, fusing traditional instruments with new electronic sounds and technology, uses of counterpoint, orchestration and the human voice. Interfusion of Western, Indian folk and Carnatic elements. amalgamated elements of genres such as Afro-tribal, bossa nova, dance music doo-wop, flamenco, acoustic guitar jazz, march, pathos, pop, psychedelia, and rock and roll.

Early life

A R Rahman’s early life

A R Rahman was born A. S. Dileep Kumar in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, on 6 January 1966, 2nd child of R. K. Shekhar and Kashturi. They belonged to a musical Mudaliar Tamil family. Rahman lost his father at the age of 9 and his family rented out musical equipment as a source of income. When his younger sister fell severely sick and as per the advice of a family friend, the family prayed at a mosque and vowed conversion to Islam if she got well. The prayers were answered so he along with other members of his family then converted to Islam in the year 1989 at the age of 23 and changed his name to Rahman.

A. R. Rahman
A. R. Rahman

Ilaiyaraaja’s early life

Ilaiyaraaja was born as Gnanadesikan in Pannaipuram, Theni district, Tamil Nadu, India on 2 June 1943, 3rd son of Ramaswamy and Chinnathayammal. Growing up in a rural area, he was exposed to a range of Tamil folk music. He was an introvert, constantly exploring his skills in music. His eldest brother, Varadarajan died when the family faced extreme poverty. He produced some movies later in his life under the banner of Pavalar Productions in the memory of his brother.

Musical Style

Rahman is skilled in Carnatic music, Western classical, Hindustani music and the Qawwali style. Symphonic orchestral themes have accompanied his scores, where he has employed leitmotif. His compositions bring out the uses of counterpoint, orchestration and the human voice, evolving Indian pop music with unique timbres, forms and instrumentation. Rahman is arguably more adept at using synthesized sound and beats in his music, and his music has gained wider national (India) and international popularity.

Ilaiyaraaja's music is characterized by the use of an orchestration technique that is a synthesis of Western and Indian instruments and musical modes. He uses electronic music technology that integrated synthesisers, electric guitars and keyboards, drum machines, rhythm boxes and MIDI with large orchestras that feature traditional instruments such as the veena, venu, nadaswaram, dholak, mridangam and tabla as well as Western lead instruments such as saxophones and flutes.


A R Rahman has won fourteen Filmfare Awards, four National Film Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, two Grammy Awards, and two Academy Awards. He has also been awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan from the Government of India.

Ilaiyaraaja has won four Indian National Film Awards for best film scoring, and is a recipient of the prestigious Padma Bhushan Award from the Government of India.


Early in Rahman's career - when he was 24 - he was profiled in the Doordarshan program Surabhi.


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