I’d been dazzled by the scale of things at the Brihadisvara temple in Tanjore. The great height of the gopuram, the vimana, the size of each stone, the majesty of the Linga, the art, and the petite subsidiary temples which were masterpieces in miniature. This was the low season, the time of āshāda, the lunar month when nothing auspicious is done. So I had a relaxed visit, spending all day both days in the precincts.

After dinner at my hotel, I went back to the temple. The moon was out, the air had cooled, there was a breeze about, and the day-trippers had all gone back.

A veena player was performing by the colossal Nandi before the main gopura. He had a full accompaniment backing him up. The man tossed his head up and about a lot, sending his long hair flying, adding drama to mastery. The style was Carnatic, the sound of the veena as always was sweet. His rapt audience comprised the young and the old and kids and locals and tourists.

Impressed by the panache of the performer, I leaned forward and asked an old man in front of me who the veena-player was.

He turned, smiling. The man was rustic, with grey stubble, wearing a white veshti and a striped shirt. I had brought on terrible disbelief upon his face.

“Don’t you watch TV?” he said in Tamil.

He repeated the line, glancing around at the others, who were looking at me, and him. “That’s Rajesh Vaidhya,” he said, engaging the onlookers. Everybody raised a smile to that and went back to listening to their star.

I’ve since looked up that Tamil artiste on Wikipedia, and seeing how big a celebrity he is among the Tamils, I think the old man was kind to me. My question was as asking a Liverpudlian, “Who is John Lennon?”


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