Gnanadesikan was born to Daniel Ramaswamy and Chinna Tayammal of Pannaipuram in Teni district of Tamil Nadu on June 2, 1943. He became popular as Ilayaraja after some time and grown up as a music maestro of film industry.
He used to work for the cultural troupe of Communist Party of India along with his step brother Pavalar Varadarajan right from his childhood.
Ilayaraja, for the first time, tuned a song scripted by popular Tamil writer Kannadasan on the first Prime Minister of India at the age of 14. Later in 1976, he turned a music director of a film with Annakkili (Ramachiluka in Telugu).
From then onwards he had no looking back. He enthralled the audiences of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi languages. Though he was introduced to the film industry with a Tamil film, he earned good recognition with Telugu films and he bagged national awards for Telugu films.
'Sagara Sangamam' (1984), 'Sindhu Bhairavi' (1986) and Rudraveena (1989) earned him several awards for his music direction.
The Tamil Nadu government felicitated him with 'Kalaimamani' award, while Annamalai University gave him an honorary doctorate.
Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Arizona of the US awarded him with several honorary doctorates and felicitations. Though he earned as many awards and rewards, Illayaraja continued to be very honest and simple.
Ilayaraja was in the habit of visiting Ramana Maharshi Ashram at Tiruvannamalai and continued to be very humble. Even now, he claims that he was still a student in the field of music.
Both his sons settled in the film industry as music directors.