Ilaiyaraaja was born into a poor rural Dalit family in Pannaipuram. He is the third son of Daniel Ramaswamy and Chinnathayammal. At the age of 14, he joined a travelling musical troupe headed by his elder step-brother, Pavalar Varadarajan, and spent the next decade performing throughout South India. In 1968, Ilaiyaraaja began a music course with Professor Dhanraj in Chennai. He specialized in classical guitar and had done a course in it with the Trinity College of Music, London. In 1976, film producer Panchu Arunachalam commissioned him to compose the songs and film score for a Tamil-language film called Annakkili. By the mid-1980s Ilaiyaraaja was gaining increasing stature as a film composer and music director in the South Indian film industry. Besides Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films, he has scored music for Hindi (or Bollywood) film productions such as Sadma (1983), Mahadev (1989), Lajja (2001) and Cheeni Kum (2007). Ilaiyaraaja has sung over 400 of his own compositions for films, and is recognisable by his stark, nasal voice. He has penned the lyrics for some of his songs in Tamil and other languages. Ilaiyaraaja's music is characterised by the use of an orchestration technique that is a synthesis of Western and Indian instruments and musical modes. He used 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. He has composed music for events such as the 1996 Miss World beauty pageant that was held in Bangalore, India, and for a documentary called India 24 Hours (1996). Ilaiyaraaja rarely performs his music live, which may be due to the time he devotes to his composing activities. His last major live performance, the first in 25 years, was a four-hour concert held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai, India on October 16, 2005. He was presented with an honorary citizenship and key to the Teaneck township by Mr. John Abraham, Mayor of Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.A. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu, India (Degree of Doctor of Letter (Honoris causa)) in March, 1994, the World University Round Table, Arizona, U.S.A. (Cultural Doctorate in Philosophy of Music) in April, 1994, and Madurai Kamaraj University, Tamil Nadu (Degree of Doctor of Letters) in 1996.