Born on 31 August 1979, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu into a Tamil family, Yuvan Shankar Raja is the third and youngest child of musician and film composer Ilaiyaraaja and his late wife Jeeva. He is the younger brother of music director Karthik Raja and playback singer-cum-music director Bhavatharini. Yuvan once confessed, that his brother Karthik Raja is more talented than him, but did not get a successful break into the music business, since he did not get a "good team to work with". His father as well as his siblings have sung many songs under his direction.
Film director and film composer Gangai Amaran and R. D. Bhaskar are his uncles and their sons Venkat Prabhu, Premji Amaran and Parthi Bhaskar, who are working in the Tamil film industry as well, are his cousins. Moreover, Yuvan Shankar and both the sons of Gangai Amaran, do often associate with each other and have often worked together, the results of which have been very successful. Venkat Prabhu's films have had all musical score by Yuvan, while Premji had assisted him composing music for some years, before becoming an independent composer aside from the fact, that both have sung several songs under the direction of Yuvan Shankar Raja.
Yuvan Shankar did his schooling at St. Bede's Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School in Chennai, and discontinued his education after his tenth class. He started learning music from Jacob Master, attending piano classes at "Musee Musical" in Chennai, which is affiliated to Trinity College in London, UK. Yuvan Shankar Raja stated, that he always wanted to become a pilot and travel "all around the world", but as he grew up "with music around him", he eventually became a musician. He admires the work of his father and other composers such as S. D. Burman, R. D. Burman, M. S. Viswanathan and Naushad and the voices of singers Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, P. B. Sreenivas and P. Susheela.