There is mystique in his music, mysticism in his living and mysteriousness in his speech. When his magical fingers roll on an instrument and his musical arms wave to the orchestra, the sounds produced mesmerise the hearts and minds of the listeners. It is often said that poetry is music in words; his compositions can very well be called poetry in music. His lips speak rarely, but when they open, serenity flows from them. He is Allah Rakha Rahman, the undisputed king of music. A converted Muslim, none else could have perhaps been a better name than Allah Rakha Rahman signifying his absolute faith in the protective supremacy of Kind Lord, the Creator of the Universe. “From a non-believer to a worshipper; from polytheist to monotheist; from Dileep Kumar to Allah Rakha Rahman,” wrote Arab News, “the famous music wizard has come a long way….He revolutionized Bollywood music, giving it a new direction…Rahman’s music is everywhere: in discotheques, in malls, at wedding parties, on satellite channels, in taxis… His face adorns the cover of every album he cuts. Autograph hunters hound him wherever he goes.”

Born as A. S. Dileep Kumar, A R Rahman is a composer, singer, lyricist, musician, producer and philanthropist, the world of music recognises him as the most prominent and prolific music composer whose expertise lies in a wonderful blend of Eastern classic music and Western music through an orchestrated use of electronic music, world music and traditional orchestra. His fans in his native state call him “the Mozart of Madras” and “Isai Puyal (Storm of Music)”, the titles which sum up his impact on the world of music, not only in India but the whole world. No wonder then that Time magazine labelled him as the most prolific music composer of the world and the international bodies conferred on him two Academy Awards (for Best Original Music), two Grammy Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe. And of course, India embellished his tally of awards with four National Film Awards, fifteen Filmfare Awards and thirteen Filmfare Awards South.

Rahman Khan’s official website sums up his bibliography as follows;

“. R. Rahman is an Indian composer, singer-songwriter, music producer, musician, multi-instrumentalist and philanthropist.

Described as the world’s most prominent and prolific film composer by Time, his works are notable for integrating Eastern classical music with electronic music sounds, world music genres and traditional orchestral arrangements.

He has won two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, four National Film Awards, fifteen Filmfare Awards and thirteen Filmfare Awards South in addition to numerous other awards and nominations.

His extensive body of work for film and the stage earned him the nickname “the Mozart of Madras” and several Tamil commentators and fans have coined him the nickname Isai Puyal (English: Music Storm). In 2009, Time placed Rahman in its list of World’s Most Influential People.

The UK based World Music magazine Songlines named him one of ‘Tomorrow’s World Music Icons’ in August 2011. Having set up his own in-house studio called Panchathan Record Inn at Chennai, arguably one of Asia’s most sophisticated and high-tech studios, Rahman’s film scoring career began in the early 1990s with the Tamil film Roja.

Working in India’s various film industries, international cinema and theatre, Rahman is one of the world’s all-time top selling recording artists. In a notable career spanning two decades, Rahman has garnered particular acclaim for redefining contemporary Indian film music and thus contributing to the success of several films.

Rahman is currently one of the highest paid composers of the motion picture industry. He is a notable humanitarian and philanthropist, donating and raising money for beneficial causes and supporting charities.”

1. Early Life

Rahman or Dileep was born on January 6, 1967 at Chennai. His father, R. K. Shekhar, was a film-score composer and conductor for Tamil and Malayalam films. His mother was Karima who was in fact born as Kasturi. Rahman’s father died when he was only 9 years old, and from here starts the story of a true fighter. He was raised by his mother. Rahman began learning piano at the age of four. The responsibility of supporting his mother) and three sisters soon fell on his young shoulders. He began his prosperous musical career at age eleven out of necessity.

He joined a group of his friends and became a keyboard player and started arranging bands such as Roots and founded the Chennai-based rock group Nemesis Avenue. He mastered the keyboard, piano, synthesizer, harmonium and guitar. In particular he became interested in the synthesizer because he regarded it the ideal combination of music and technology.

Studying in Chennai, Rahman graduated with a diploma in Western classical music from the school

2. Musical Style and Impact

His musical style comprises 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. One characteristic feature of his style is that symphonic orchestral themes have accompanied his scores, where he has employed leitmotif. His composition employs Indian pop music with unique timbres, forms and instrumentation. Rahman is considered more adept at using synthesized sound and beats in his music. His own website describes his style as follows:

“Skilled in Carnatic music, Western classical, Hindustani music and the Qawwali style of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahman has been noted to write film songs that amalgamate elements of these music systems and other genres, layering instruments from differing music idioms in an improvisatory manner.

Symphonic orchestral themes have accompanied his scores, occasionally employing leitmotif. In the 1980s, Rahman recorded and played arrangements on monophonic sound, synonymous with the era of his musical predecessors K. V. Mahadevan and Vishwanathan–Ramamoorthy. In later years his methodology changed as he experimented with the fusion of traditional instruments with new electronic sounds and technology.

Rahman’s musical interests and outlook stem from his love of experimentation. Rahman’s compositions, in the vein of past and contemporary Chennai film composers, bring out auteuristic uses of counterpoint, orchestration and the human voice, melding Indian pop music with unique timbre, forms and instrumentation. By virtue of these qualities, broad ranging lyrics and his syncretic style, the appeal of his music cuts across the spectrum of classes and cultures within Indian society. His first soundtrack for Roja was listed in Time’s “10 Best Soundtracks” of all time in 2005. Film critic Richard Corliss felt the “astonishing debut work parades Rahman’s gift for alchemizing outside influences until they are totally Tamil, totally Rahman.” Rahman’s initial global reach is attributed to the South Asian Diaspora. The music producer Ron Fair considers Rahman to be “one of the world’s great living composers in any medium”.

The director Baz Luhrmann notes

“I had come to the music of A. R. Rahman through the emotional and haunting score of Bombay and the wit and celebration of Lagaan. But the more of AR’s music I encountered the more I was to be amazed at the sheer diversity of styles: from swinging brass bands to triumphant anthems; from joyous pop to West-End musicals. Whatever the style, A. R. Rahman’s music always possesses a profound sense of humanity and spirit, qualities that inspire me the most.” Rahman has introduced the 7.1 technology in south Indian movies to provide better output.

3. Film Scoring and Soundtracks

To know about Rahman’s film scoring and soundtracks, there cannot be anything better than what his own website says:

“When he was nine, Rahman accidentally played a tune on piano during his father’s recording for a film, which R. K. Shekhar later developed into a complete song,

“Vellithen Kinnam Pol”, for the Malayalam film Penpada. This track credited to his father, was sung by Jayachandran and penned by Bharanikkavu Sivakumar. His film career began in 1992, when he started Panchathan Record Inn, a music recording and mixing studio attached to the backyard of his house. Over time it would become the most advanced recording studio in India, and arguably one of Asia’s most sophisticated and high-tech studios. He initially composed scores for documentaries, jingles for advertisements and Indian Television channels and other projects.

In 1987 Rahman, then still known as Dileep got his first opportunity to compose jingles for new range of watches being launched by Allwyn. In 1992, he was approached by film director Mani Ratnam to compose the score and soundtrack for Ratnam’s Tamil film Roja. During the filming, its Cinematographer Santosh Sivan signed A. R. Rahman up for the Malayalam movie Yodha, directed by his brother Sangeeth Sivan released later in September 1992.

The debut led Rahman to receive the Rajat Kamal (Silver Lotus) award for Best Music Director at the National Film Awards, an unprecedented win for a first-time film composer. Rahman has since been awarded the Silver Lotus three more times for Minsara Kanavu (Tamil) in 1997, Lagaan (Hindi) in 2002, and Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) in 2003, the most ever by any composer.

Roja’s score met with high sales and acclaim in both its original and dubbed versions, led by the theme song “Chinna Chinna Aasai” bringing about a marked change in film music at the time. Rahman has worked with Indian poets and lyricists such as Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Vairamuthu and Vaali.

He has consistently produced commercially successful soundtracks when collaborating with particular film directors such as Mani Ratnam, who he has worked with since Roja, and the director S. Shankar in the films Gentleman, Kadhalan, Indian, Jeans, Mudhalvan, Nayak, Boys, Sivaji and lately for Enthiran. In 2005, Rahman extended his Panchathan Record Inn studio by establishing AM Studios in Kodambakkam, Chennai, thereby creating the most cutting-edge studio in Asia.

In 2006, Rahman launched his own music label, KM Music. Its first release was his score to the film Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. Rahman scored the Mandarin language picture Warriors of Heaven and Earth in 2003 after researching and utilising Chinese and Japanese classical music, and won the Just Plain Folks Music Award for Best Music Album for his score of the 2006 film Varalaru (God Father).

He co-scored the Shekhar Kapur project and his first British film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, in 2007. He garnered an Asian Film Award nomination for Best Composer at the Hong Kong International Film Festival for his Jodhaa Akbar score. His compositions have been sampled for other scores within India, and appeared in such films as Inside Man, Lord of War, Divine Intervention and The Accidental Husband.

In 2008, Rahman scored his first Hollywood picture, the comedy Couples Retreat released the next year, which won him the BMI London Award for Best Score. Rahman scored the film Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, for which he won a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards, becoming the first Asian to do so. The songs “Jai Ho” and “O…Saya” from the soundtrack of this film met with commercial success internationally.

In 2010, Rahman composed scores for the romance film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, blockbuster sci-fi romance film Enthiran and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Rahman started off the year 2011 by scoring Imtiaz Ali’s musical film Rockstar. The soundtrack became a phenomenal success and earned Rahman immense critical praise.”

4. Performing and Other Projects

Rahman has been involved in several projects aside from film. Vande Mataram, an album of his original compositions released on India’s 50th anniversary of independence in 1997, enjoyed great commercial success.

Vande Mataram is one of the largest selling Indian non-film albums to date. He followed it up with an album for the Bharat Bala-directed video Jana Gana Mana, a conglomeration of performances by many leading exponents and artists of Indian classical music. Rahman has written jingles for ads and composed several orchestrations for athletic events, television and internet media publications, documentaries and short films. He frequently enlists the Czech Film Orchestra, Prague and the Chennai Strings Orchestra.

In 1999, Rahman partnered with choreographers Shobana and Prabhu Deva and a Tamil cinema dancing troupe to perform with Michael Jackson in Munich, Germany at his “Michael Jackson and Friends” concert. In 2002, he composed the music for his maiden stage production, Bombay Dreams, commissioned by musical theatre composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Finnish folk music band Varttina collaborated with Rahman to write the music for The Lord of the Rings theatre production and in 2004, Rahman composed the piece “Raga’s Dance” for Vanessa-Mae’s album Choreography performed by Mae and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Since 2004, Rahman has performed three successful world tours to audiences in Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Dubai, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and India. He has been collaborating with Karen David for her upcoming studio album. A two-disc soundtrack, Introducing A. R. Rahman (2006) featuring 25 of his pieces from Tamil film scores was released in May 2006, and his non-film album, Connections was released on 12 December 2008. Rahman also performed at the White House State dinner arranged by US President Barack Obama during the official visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 24 November 2009.

Rahman is one of over 70 artists who performed on “We Are the World 25 for Haiti”, a charity single to raise emergency relief funds in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In 2010, Rahman composed “Jai Jai Garvi Gujarat” in honour of the 50th anniversary of the formation of Gujarat State, “Semmozhiyaana Thamizh Mozhiyaam” as part of World Classical Tamil Conference 2010, and the official theme song of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, “Jiyo Utho Bado Jeeto”. Rahman organised his first world tour, named A. R. Rahman Jai Ho Concert: The Journey Home World Tour, in 2010. The tour was kicked off on 11 June at the Nassau Coliseum in New York and span 16 major cities worldwide.

Some of his notable compositions were performed live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in April 2010. In February 2011, Rahman collaborated with Michael Bolton for his new studio album Gems — The Duets Collection. Rahman reworked on his song “Sajna” from the 2009 American film Couples Retreat to create the track.

On 20 May 2011, English musician Mick Jagger announced the formation of a new supergroup, Super Heavy, which includes Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, and Rahman. The band’s self-titled album is slated for release in September 2011. The album will see Mick Jagger singing in Rahman’s composition “Satyameva Jayate”, which translates to “the truth alone triumphs”.

In January 2012, it was announced the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg would join KM Music Conservatory musicians in a 100-member concert tour of five Indian cities performing Rahman’s compositions. The tour, named “Germany and India 2011–2012: Infinite Opportunities’. Classic Incantations”, will mark the centenary of Indian cinema and of Studio Babelsberg, the world’s oldest film studio.

In summer 2012, Rahman composed a Punjabi song for the London Olympics opening ceremony, organised by Danny Boyle. It was part of a medley which showcased Indian influence in the UK, according to Boyle’s wishes. Another Indian musician, Ilaiyaraja’s song from Tamil-language film Ram Lakshman (1981), has also been chosen as part of the medley.

On 20 December 2012, Rahman released the single “Infinite Love” in both English and Hindi commemorating the last day of the Mayan calendar to spread hope, peace and love.


SuperHeavy were a short-lived supergroup consisting of Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, A. R. Rahman, and Damian Marley. Reviewing it the Guardian says,

“Over on the SuperHeavy website, there is a short video of the freshly minted supergroup in the studio. It opens not with their most celebrated member, Mick Jagger, but the youngest, Joss Stone. “Aaaah-yeeeeeaaaah-a-hey-a-YAY,” she sings, as is her wont. “What the fuck is going on?”

The listener might be forgiven for asking the same thing when confronted with SuperHeavy, whose baffling line-up features not only Jagger and Stone, but former Eurhythmic Dave Stewart, Bollywood composer AR Rahman and Damian “Jr Gong” Marley. On the band’s debut single, Miracle Worker, the latter seems as bewildered as Stone by the turn his career’s taken. “I bet you never would believe that you’d ‘ear Damian Marley, Dave Stewart, AR Rahman, Mick Jagger and Joss Stone in a rub-a-dub version!” he cries at the song’s conclusion. “Imagine! I mean, think about it!” A cruel voice might add: And then try not to wince when you do.

The song’s really not that bad, in fact — pop-reggae brightened by an agreeably preposterous Jagger performance, so OTT you can hear the spittle flying from his lips — and the intention behind SuperHeavy sounds intriguing. Now a resident of Jamaica, Stewart apparently imagined what noise the island’s sound systems would make if mixed with Indian orchestras and immediately called the Rolling Stones front man. Not, it has to be said, the first name that springs to mind when you think of Jamaican sound systems or Bollywood strings, but who knows how things work in the rarefied world of rock royalty? In any case, the descriptions of what emerged from SuperHeavy’s star-studded recording sessions are more intriguing still. There has been talk of hour-long tracks and vocals in Urdu, leavened slightly by Jagger’s reassurances: “It’s not all weird and strange”.

“The song in Urdu is still there — it’s called Satyameva Jayate and starts out rather beautifully, with Rahman singing over hiccupping dancehall beats before, alas, descending into the profoundly unlovely sound of stadium rock decorated with Irish fiddle. But the hour-long jams have been edited down into manageable chunks of reggae-inflected pop-rock, with turn-taking vocals. To his credit, Jagger doesn’t entirely dominate proceedings, although it’s worth noting that — as when he provided backing vocals on Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain — you’re somehow always very aware Mick Jagger is in the room even when he’s allowing others the limelight. At its best, when Rahman’s string arrangements collide with the rhythms provided by Marley’s backing band, you can just make out the ghost of Stewart’s original concept for the project. Unbelievable settles on a beat somewhere between Kingston and Mumbai, Stone’s blank-eyed backing vocals an intriguing foil to Jagger’s relentless hamming: long-term fans will furthermore be heartened that he’s finally discovered a way of singing reggae that doesn’t involve lapsing into the here-come-de-Lilt-man voice found on the Stones’ 70s excursions into the genre.’’’

Still, you can understand the appeal of SuperHeavy for its participants, particularly Jagger, who’s been trying to establish himself in a context outside of the Rolling Stones since starring in Performance in 1968. Furthermore, it offers as added inducement the unmissable opportunity to infuriate Keith Richards, who recently broke off from telling anyone who’d listen that Jagger has a small penis to suggest the Stones should regroup to celebrate their 50th anniversary: “I’m just, you know, doing this right now,” said Jagger when asked about the possibility.”

The Rahman websites adds:

“Recording in LA meant the band’s path crossed with legendary Indian composer A.R. Rahman, in the City of Angels fresh from his Slumdog Millionaire Oscar glory. Jagger explains, “We didn’t know what kind of music we’d make, we didn’t know if it would be any good, but we hoped we’d have fun.” They were thrilled to have Rahman on board, Stewart says, “He brings so much musical knowledge, amazing musicianship, melody and singing power from a different culture.”

5. Awards

6. Personal Life

Rahman is married to Saira Banu. They have three children: Khatija, Rahima and Ameen. Ameen has sung “NaNa” from Couples Retreat, and Khatija has sung “Pudhiya Manidha” from Enthiran. Several of his other relatives G. V. Prakash Kumar, his elder sister A. R. Reihana, younger sisters Fathima, and, Ishrath, are in music profession in different capacities.

7. Humanitarian work

Rahman is involved with a number of charitable causes. In 2004 he was appointed global ambassador of the Stop TB Partnership, a WHO project.] Rahman has supported Save the Children India and worked with Yusuf Islam on “Indian Ocean”, a song featuring a-ha keyboard player Magne Furuholmen and Travis drummer Neil Primrose. Proceeds from the song went to help orphans in Banda Aceh who were affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.] He produced the single “We Can Make It Better” by Don Asian with Mukhtar Sahota. In 2008 Rahman opened the KM Music Conservatory with an audio-media education facility to train aspiring musicians in vocals, instruments, music technology and sound design. The conservatory (with prominent musicians on staff and a symphony orchestra) is located near his studio in Kodambakkam, Chennai and offers courses at several levels. Violinist L. Subramaniam is on its advisory board. Several of Rahman’s protégés from the studio have scored feature films. He composed the theme music for a 2006 short film for The Banyanto aid poor women in Chennai. In 2008 Rahman and noted percussionist Sivamani created a song, “Jiya Se Jiya”, inspired by the Free Hugs Campaign and promoted it with a video filmed in a number of Indian cities]

8. Discography

Find his discography here

I’m always fascinated by the innocence of children and the baggage that we carry as adults which manipulates our decisions.

An ideal world can definitely be created with a pure mind and optimistic results.

Infinite Love is an aspirational video which intends to say the same.


9. Did A. R. Rahman become successful after he converted to Islam?

First of all I m not saying this “Rahman got his talent after his religion changed” but what I am asking is that people often say that he got successful after his religion changed. So i need an answer to shut their mouth. I love Rahman.

Raziman Thottungal Valapu, Indian Muslim

23 up votes by Mayeesha Tahsin, Alex Joseph, Khalil Sawant, (more)

A. R. Rahman became a Muslim and changed his name from Dileep in 1989. He achieved success in the movie industry and became a household name by composing music for Roja, which was released in 1992.

Indeed, his most well known successes came after his religious conversion. But it would be silly to say that the success was because of it. As the other answers note, he had been learning music from his childhood days and been associated with various music directors, and accompanied many musicians on world tours. Here are a few excerpts from his Wikipedia article:

Raised by his mother, Kareema (born Kashturi), Rahman was a keyboard player and arranger for bands such as Roots (with childhood friend and percussionist Sivamani, John Anthony, Suresh Peters, JoJo and Raja) and founded the Chennai-based rock group Nemesis Avenue. He mastered the keyboard, piano, synthesizer, harmonium and guitar, and was particularly interested in the synthesizer because it was the “ideal combination of music and technology”.

Rahman began his early musical training under Master Dhanraj, and at age 11 began playing in the orchestra of Malayalam composer (and close friend of his father) M. K. Arjunan. He soon began working with other composers, such as M. S. Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraaja, Naidu and Raj-Koti, accompanied Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and L. Shankar on world tours and obtained a scholarship from Trinity College London to the Trinity College of Music. Studying in Chennai, Rahman graduated with a diploma in Western classical music from the school.

Rahman was introduced to Qadiri Islam when his younger sister was seriously ill in 1984. He converted to Islam (his mother’s religion) with other members of his family in 1989 at age 23, changing his name from R. S. Dileep Kumar to Allah Rakha Rahman (A. R. Rahman).

Clearly, Islam came into his life way after music did. His later works show quite a bit of Sufi-Islamic influence, but at least his initial successes were unrelated and were a result of talent and years of musical training. That he became Muslim before attaining mainstream success was only a coincidence. Source

I didn’t fund fundamentalists!

An interview about the controversies surrounding ARR. A R Rahman has been in the midst of a controversy storm. He has been accused of numerous things; funding fundamentalist and throwing out his father’s close associate amongst other things. He is a person very shy and publicity wise a hermit, a person who keeps a very low profile, hardly attends functions and socialises. That such a publicity shy person, has come out in the open to clear his name of the various taints only shows the extent of his hurt. Here he gives a very open heart to heart interview with IMN dealing very clearly what had happened and why his name has been dragged through the mud. He first burst on the cinema field in Mani Ratnam’s Roja. The songs and the background were a hit and he never looked back since. Before ‘Roja’, he was composing music for advertisements and his music for the instant coffee advertisement is a classic. Here are the excerpts from the interview he gave us.

Tell us about your childhood.

The only thing I remember clearly of my early childhood is, of frequent visits to hospitals. My father Sekhar, leading music player, was frequently hospitalised for stomach-ache. The doctors operated upon him thrice but they could not find anything wrong with him, He died when I was 9 years old. The responsibility of looking after my mother and three sisters fell on me. My studies were ended and I started playing the keyboard to earn a living. We later received some indications that my father died of black magic by jealous rivals.

When did you convert to Islam?

Since I had been struggling from such a tender age, for sometime afterwards I stopped believing in God. But later when I stabilized myself the concept of God in Islam was very appealing. So I and my whole family converted to Islam. This was around 1989. Anyway my mother was from a Muslim family. Family problems and the need for peace of mind made me convert.

About the recent controversies.

It is better that I clear everything up. About the rumour that I had fundamentalist, how can it be that I provide funds for them, when I have received death threats from the extremist and the state government has posted police personnels to guard my residence? Another rumour concerned my giving away money as charity to such organisations. Charity is done to satisfy my urge to do more for the poor. And anyway I have to tell you, I don’t give charity only to Muslim charities, I donate to Hindu and Christian organisations too. The money I give as charity is limited as I have to improve my instruments. I have invested heavily in technology and there is not much left to indulge in mass charity. The amount I give is definitely not enough to help the extremist to buy arms with my money!

About the rest of the controversies.

I am coming to them. Another rumour has been going around that a beggar I picked up at a Darga has become an absolute tyrant and has become the reason for sending out M K Arjun. M. K. Arjun was a very close associate of my father and my adviser. The truth is Arjun’s son wanted to set up a recording studio in Kerala. I gave him some of my instruments. And M. K. Arjun went back to Kerala to help his son set up his recording studio there. Therefore there was no question of an outsider making him leave, was there? And while on this point, I did not pick up any beggar on the streets. Another rumour which is spreading is that I convert people close to me. What nonsense. If I had converted people, Noel, Shivakumar etc would have changed religion! When I am not perfect myself, how can I convert others? I follow my religion, let others follow their own.

Whom do you think is behind these rumors?

The whole thing was cooked up by a freelance journalist called Bismi, who married my sister and later divorced her. He met her when she was doing some stage shows and we sort of forced her into marriage with him. But unfortunately we came to know that he was only after my money. He used to be very upset with my giving to charity. Anyway as soon as my sister came to know that he was only after the money she separated. But during the time when he was around he learnt a lot of the family’s inner issues and now he is spreading rumours to upset me.

Let us forget the bitterness. How did you get your first break?

I was doing the music for many advertisements and they slowly picked up. By this time, I had invested heavily in the latest instruments and technology. The break came when I was asked to do the music for Mani Ratnams film ‘Roja’ in 1989. That was my turning point. My computerised instrument technology has helped me to move ahead. God has given me a chance, an ideal and I do not intend for rumours to upset me. I want to provide many more years of quality music by God’s Grace. Source

His father R. K. Sekar, a music director who mostly worked for Mallu films and his mother Kasturi (Kareema Begum). While Rahman’s father being a born Hindu and died as Hindu, it was Kasturi, whose real name was Kareema Begum before marrying Hindu Shekhar.

It was in the year 1991 when it all began. Mani Ratnam, one of India’s best-known directors was in search of a new music composer for his films. At an awards function for excellence in the field of advertising, he met Rahman after he bagged the award for the best ad jingle in Sharada Trilok’s advertisement for Leo Coffee. Sharada introduced the young composer to her cousin, Mani Ratnam who was so impressed that he signed him for K. Balachander’s 1992 film Roja, six months later. The film was directed by noted filmmaker Mani Ratnam and featured Madhoo and then debutant Arvind Swamy. At last, Rahman’s talent and calibre came to the notice of the entire world. The song ‘Tamizha Tamizha’ in the film became a rage. The colourful fusion of pop, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, reggae, rock, and classical Indian music (Carnatic) won him three awards for Best Music Director. A.R Rahman’s music is greatly influenced by Sufi mysticism.

It is interesting to note how this great music composer came up in life, considering his humble beginnings. A.S. Dileep Kumar or A.R. Rahman as we know today was born on January 6 1966, in Madras. Rahman’s father, K.A. Sekhar was a successful musician, arranger and conductor in Malayalam movies and had worked with popular figures like Salil Chowdhary and Devarajan. Under this background, AR Rahman began learning the piano at the age of four. But life was not all that hunky-dory for the young boy who lost his father at the age of nine.

The responsibility of supporting his mother Kasturi (Kareema Begum) and three sisters (Kanchana, Bala — now Talat and Israth), soon fell on his young shoulders. At the age of eleven, Dileep joined Illaiyaraja’s troupe as a keyboard player and a session musician on soundtracks. All this was casting an adverse effect on Rahman’s education. Lack of attendance and indifference on the part of the management forced him to shift from the prestigious Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan to the Madras Christian College. However, he finally dropped out of school at the age of 16.

He then roamed the world with various orchestras including renowned Zakir Husain. His experience and exposure helped him earn a scholarship and obtain a degree in Western Classical Music from Trinity College of Music, Oxford University.

It was sometime in 1987 that Rahman ventured into composing jingles for television commercials, the first one being for Allwyn’s new trendy range of watches. He composed more than 300 jingles in a matter of five years apart from his first album of Muslim devotional songs titled ‘Deen Isai Malai’ and the English album, ‘Set Me Free’. However, that failed to make an impact in the market. Few of the popular ads that he did included Parry’s, Leo Coffee, Boost showcasing Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, Titan, Premier Pressure Cooker, Hero Puch and Asian Paints. The small studio called Panchathan Record Inn that he began is one of India’s most well equipped and advanced recording studios today. Also, Rahman began a collection of sound samples — The most comprehensive sonic libraries in Asia.

A lot has been talked about Rahman’s conversion to Islam. In fact the quiet music composer even received a lot of flak for the same. It was in the year 1989 that Dileep Kumar and his family converted into Islam. It wasn’t a very difficult decision to make as his mother Kareema Begum belonged to a Muslim family. Also, in 1988, one of his sisters fell seriously ill and in spite of the family’s effort to cure her, her health deteriorated by the day. They happened to meet a Muslim Pir — Sheik Abdul Qadir Jeelani or Pir Qadri. His prayers and blessings did wonder for his sister who made a miraculous comeback to life. Thus began the journey of A.S. Dileep Kumar to A.R. Rahman. Source

Famous Indian Music Director A.R. Rahman is a Hindu convert to Islam. His thoughts on Islam, at Hajj

At Hajj, A. R. Rahman Left His Celebrity Status Behind

Syed Faisal Ali, Arab News

MINA, 12 January 2006 — From a non-believer to a worshipper; from polytheist to monotheist; from Dileep Kumar to Allah Rakha Rahman, the famous music wizard has come a long way. This journey, he says, has completely changed his outlook toward life.

Rahman is well-known in India. He revolutionized Bollywood music, giving it a new direction. But in Mina, the man was spiritually charged, relaxing in his camp after Isha prayers, remarkably very far from the rhythm of success.

He said that in India’s film world, people change Muslim names to Hindu ones to get success but, “in my case it was just the opposite from Dileep Kumar to Allah Rakha Rahman — and I’m very proud of it.”

Rahman’s music is everywhere: in discotheques, in malls, at wedding parties, on satellite channels, in taxis. He is a celebrity in his own right. His face adorns the cover of every album he cuts. Autograph hunters found him wherever he goes. A couple of companies have tried to lure him into product endorsements, but he refused, preferring to distance himself from the glare and the sometimes self-indulgent afterglow of fame.

Such was his attitude when Arab News met him yesterday in Mina after a hunt of five hours that had started just after Maghreb prayers.

Once a practitioner of idolatry, Rahman now talks about Islam like a scholar. He winced as he spoke about the ignorance of some Muslims and the divisions among them on trivial issues.

Rahman, who has come to perform his second Haj with his mother, utilized every bit of his stay in Mina, Arafat and Medina in prayer and remembrance of God to “cleanse the inner self.”

He said Islam is a religion of peace, love, coexistence, tolerance and modernity. But due to the behaviour of a few of us, it’s labelled as an intolerant orthodoxy. He says that the image of Islam is being tarnished by a small group of people and that Muslims must come forward to present before the world the correct picture of their divine faith.

“The enormity of their ignorance of the Islamic history and its code of conduct is mind-boggling. We should be united in fighting these elements for the cause of Islam,” he said.

“Mu slims should go to lengths to follow the basics, which say ‘be kind to your neighbours, keep smiling when you meet others, pray and do charity.’ We should serve humanity. We should not show hostility toward others, even to the followers of other faiths. This is what Islam stands for. We should present before the world a model through our behaviour, nature and presentation. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never used his sword to spread Islam; rather he spread the religion through his virtues, behaviour, tolerance and righteousness. And this is what is needed to change today’s distorted image of Islam.”

Talking about his Haj, Rahman said, “Allah made it very easy for us. And up until now, I have enjoyed every bit of my stay in the holy land and I pray to Allah to accept my pilgrimage.”

For him, the stoning ritual is a physical exercise that symbolizes internal struggle: “It means the defeat of temptation and killing the devil inside ourselves.”

“I would like to tell you that this year I got the most precious gift on my birthday, Jan. 6. Allah gave me the opportunity to confine myself inside the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and pray all through the day. Nothing could match this experience and that too on my birthday; I am extremely delighted and thankful to Allah,” he said.

Rahman said that prayers release his tension and give him a sense of containment. He performs prayers despite heavy work pressure. “I am an artist, but despite tremendous work pressure I never skip prayers,” he said. “I am very punctual in offering the day’s all five prayers on time. This releases me from tension and gives me hope and confidence that the Lord is with me, that this is not the only world. It reminds me of the Day of Judgment.”
It was in the year 1989 that he and his family embraced Islam.

Talking about his reversion, Rahman said, “The whole process started with a sequence of dream. It was in 1988. I was in Malaysia and had a dream of an old man who was asking me to embrace Islam. For the first time, I did not take it seriously, but then I saw the same dream several times and I discussed it with my mother. She encouraged me to go ahead and to respond to the call o f the Almighty. Also, in 1988, one of my sisters fell seriously ill and in spite of the family’s effort to cure her, her health deteriorated by the day. Then under the guidance of one Muslim religious leader we prayed to Allah, which did wonder for my sister and she made a miraculous comeback to life. Thus, began my journey from Dileep Kumar to A.R. Rahman.”

He said the decision to embrace Islam was a mutual one with his mother. Not one to normally discuss this aspect of his private life, after taking a pause, Rahman narrates succinctly, “My mother and I resolved to follow one faith … we wanted to cleanse ourselves of our sorrows.”

After initial doubts, his three sisters also embraced Islam. For them he has tried to be a role model, he said. However, his eldest sister was divorced later.

Rahman began learning piano at the age of four. But life was not all that hunky-dory for the young boy who lost his father at the age of nine.

The responsibility of supporting his mother Kasturi (now Kareema Begum) and three sisters soon fell on his young shoulders. He began his prosperous musical career at age eleven out of necessity.

Rahman is married to Saira. They have three children: two girls, 10 and seven, and a three-year-old son.

Rahman performed his first Ha j in 2004. This time, he is accompanying his mother.

“I wanted to bring my wife also for Haj this year, but since my son is only three years old, she could not make it. God willing, I will come again — next time with my wife and children,” Rahman said. Source

When AS Dileep Kumar decided to shed the faith he was born into and adopt a new one, the reasons were several. His father’s untimely death had put several financial pressures on the family, which included four children. His spiritual-minded mother had met, and gained immense succour, from a Sufi saint, peer Karimullah Shah Qadri. And he had been grappling with minor and major identity issues: he didn’t like the name he was born with, he was looking for direction and purpose, and he wanted to get a handle on his professional future. That man is today known as Allahrakha Rahman, one of India’s foremost composers. He discusses his decision to convert and the impact it had on him in these edited excerpts from AR Rahman: The Spirit of Music by Nasreen Munni Kabir.

How has Sufism affected your attitude to life?

It has taught me that just as the rain and the sun do not differentiate between people, neither should we. Only when you experience friendship across cultures, you understand there are many good people in all communities…

Did your belief in spirituality help when you and your family were facing hard times?

Yes, absolutely. My mother was a practising Hindu… My mother had always been spiritually inclined. We had Hindu religious images on the walls of the Habibullah Road house where we grew up. There was also an image of Mother Mary holding Jesus in her arms and a photograph of the sacred sites of Mecca and Medina.

In 1986, ten years after my father died, we happened to meet Qadri Saaheb again. The peer was unwell and my mother looked after him. He regarded her as a daughter. There was a strong connection between us. I was nineteen at the time and working as a session musician and composing jingles.

Did the peer ask you to embrace Islam?

No, he didn’t. Nobody is forced to convert to the path of Sufism. You only follow if it comes from your heart. A year after we met Qadri Saaheb in 1987, we moved from Habibullah Road to Kodambakkam to the house where we still live. When we moved, I was reminded of what Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, once said: “I wish that you were cold and hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

What I understood by his words was that it is better to choose one path. The Sufi path spiritually lifted both my mother and me, and we felt it was the best path for us, so we embraced Sufi Islam.

Were you conscious of the fact that changing your faith might affect your relations with people?

My family had started working by then and we weren’t dependant on anyone. No one around us really cared — we were musicians and that allowed us greater social freedom…

The important thing for me is that I learned about equality and the oneness of god. Whether you are a winner or loser, king or slave, short or tall, rich or poor, sinner or saint, ugly or beautiful — regardless of what colour you are, god showers unlimited love and mercy on us if we choose to receive it. It is because of our inability, our blindness in seeing the unknown that we lose faith.

On the net there are many versions of how you came to be called AR Rahman. What is the real story?

The truth is I never liked my name…. No disrespect to the great actor Dilip Kumar! But somehow my name didn’t match the image I had of myself.

Sometime before we started on our journey on the path of Sufism, we went to an astrologer to show him my younger sister’s horoscope because my mother wanted to get her married. This was around the same time when I was keen to change my name and have a new identity. The astrologer looked at me and said, “This chap is very interesting.”

He suggested the names: “Abdul Rahman” and “Abdul Rahim” and said that either name would be good for me. I instantly loved the name “Rahman.” It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me my Muslim name.

Then my mother had this intuition that I should add “Allahrakha” [protected by god], and I became AR Rahman.

Excerpted from AR Rahman: The Spirit of Music, Om Books International.

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Why he changed his name from Dilip Kumar to A. R. Rahman.

“The truth is I never liked my name. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t like the sound of it. No disrespect to the great actor Dilip Kumar! But somehow my name didn’t match the image I had of myself. Sometime before we started our journey on the path of Sufism, we went to an astrologer to show him my younger sister’s horoscope because my mother wanted her to get married. This was around the same time when I was keen to change my name and have a new identity. The astrologer looked at me and said: “‘This guy is very interesting.’ He suggested the names: ‘Abdul Rahman’ and ‘Abdul Rahim’ and said that either name would be good for me. I instantly loved the name ‘Rahman’. It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me a Muslim name. Then my mother had this intuition that I should add ‘Allarakha’ [Protected by God], and I became A. R. Rahman.”

His new spiritual guru, who he met after a low phase in the early n. “I was disturbed by September 11th and the Iraq war, and the way the world was getting divided. It was then that I met my new spiritual teacher who gave me a new perspective on life. By the way, he wrote the words of ‘Khwaja Mere Khwaja’ (from Jodhaa Akbar) under his pen name ‘Kashif’.” Source