Kāñchipuram Nayana Piḷḷai was the son of Kāmākshi Ammāḷ, one of the popular Dhanakōṭi sisters, who were popular in the concert scene of that time. She used to call him as Subramaniam and one day his aunt Dhanakōṭi Ammāḷ called out him endearingly by the name 'Nayana'. So, he came to be called as Nayana Piḷḷai.

As the years passed, he grew up and attained fame in the world of music by the name Kāñchipuram Nayana Piḷḷai. Both his mother and aunt were direct disciples of Kāñchi Sāstri, a great grandson of Śyāmā Sāstri. Nayana Piḷḷai also followed their way and learnt music. He was very unruly, fond of pigeon racing, wrestling and boxing during childhood. All his family members tried to tame him and tried to get him into the music classes but failed.

It is believed that one day a sannyasi named Paripūrnānanda Svāmi came to the Kailāsanāthar temple, near Nayana Piḷḷai's house in Kāñchipuram District. He was an impressive music vidvān but he was not a professional singer. He asked Nayana to come closer to him and talked with him. The sannyasi could realise the hidden musical talent in Nayana Piḷḷai. And this very first meeting with the sannyasi changed him. It is said that Paripūrnānanda Svāmi himself initiated his music classes. So, Nayana started taking keen interest in music and left his playful nature. He used to attend the classes secretly in the grounds of the Kailāsanātha Temple. One day, his mother and aunt were surprised when they heard their child singing in a melodious voice. Afterwards, he started practicing day in and out. His aunt Dhanakōṭi Ammāḷ taught him Śyāmā Sāstri`s compositions. The two concerts, which affected him a lot, were those of Eṭṭayapuram Rāmachandra Bhāgavatar and Kōnērirājapuram Vaidyanātha Iyer. After that Nayana Piḷḷai took Laya vyavahāram (rhythmic complexities) as his passion. He started expanding his range by leaps and bounds. He learnt about 400 kṛtis from the Jalataraṅgam Ramaṇiāh Cheṭṭy of the Walajapet sishya parampara of Tyāgarāja. In this field, he was helped by Veṅkaṭarāmayya and C. Rāmānujāchārya of the Rāmakrishna Math. It is known from the appellation that he was the first Karnāṭik vocalist to cut a disc.

Another teacher of Kāñchipuram Nayana Piḷḷai includes the legendary Vīṇa Dhanammāḷ. She also learnt a few songs from him. He was very much fascinated by her Tōḍi rāga that he learnt three songs in that rāga from her. The two famous students of Nayana Piḷḷai include Brinda and Mukta. But he did not teach the latter as he thought she was not talented enough. But in later period of his life, Nayana acknowledged Mukta's musical talents when he heard her sing with Brinda at the Tyāgarāja festival organised by him.

The full bench concerts were introduced by him. He used to perform with percussionists of every type ranging from the mrdaṅgam to the luscious konakkōl as his accompanists. He would have never performed in a concert without svaraprasthāras and this shows his love for rhythm. He sang several Tiruppugazhs of Aruṇagirinātha, which were known for their complex talas. Kāñchipuram Nayana Piḷḷai died on May 2 in1934 leaving behind his legacy and a few sishyas.