Look What’s Here!

Stone reliefs with some unusual element in them, observed during recent trip to the South:

Look at his feet!

Three faced Yaali (the mythical creature)

A female goddess with Shanku and Chakra!

The signature motif of Vijayanagara architecture – here the bearded shepherd (?) is not hooded as customary. Look at his pajama-like garment (a dhoti?). What is he holding besides the usual stick? A piece of cloth tucked under his arm?

A more common depiction of the shepherd. His stick has a hook at the top!

It’s not often a full panel is assigned to a dog! He carries a collar (more likely, an ornamental chain) around his neck? The turning down of the tail tip is so un-dog-like (at least the usual breeds). May be it’s not even a dog.

A loving Krishna has his arm around a gopi’s shoulder. Not a very common pose to find.

One more of the kind.

A man resting and so is the woman in green sari in a near-identical posture!!


Source: Temples at Srirangam, Triplicane, Srimushnam, Kumbakonam and Thiruvaheendpuram

Architectural Marvel: Thanjavur Brihadeeswar Temple

A must-place to visit in any tour of South India.


Brihadeeswarar Temple is 1000 years old, in Thanjavur. The amazing architecture of this temple makes it unique and stupendous. This video tells us about the facts of how this magnificent temple was built” – from Madras Trends

Duration 3.27 mins with subtitles in English:


PS: There many other videos on the net, small and big, on this temple and its features. This one from Madras Trends is vide Vidya Dwarakanath.

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Mosaics in Jordan


My familiarity with mosaics till date is limited to them – made from ceramic tiles broken up into chips – used to pave terraces of old residential buildings in Mumbai to reflect away the heat from the sun boring down onto the roof. Haven’t been to the top of any new building to know if the practice continues today.  Of course, I have also seen some large panels in some likely and unlikely public places, often sore on the eyes, while travelling abroad.

Now I know better😊

Mosaics are pictures made from arrangements of small fragments of stone or glass. Among many ancient peoples they were the primary form of architectural decoration. They date back to the dawn of civilization at Mesopotamia where architects used small colored objects to decorate the temples in Uruk in the fourth millennium B.C.

Roman Mosaics

The Greeks and Romans used pebbles and shells to make pictorial composition around the fourth century B.C. Early Greco-Roman artisans began making mosaics with pieces of colored glass broken off in different shapes from thin sheets baked in a kiln. The Romans developed the mosaic as an art form, a tradition that was carried on by the Byzantines.

Generally, only the wealthy could afford them. Some have also been found on public sidewalks, walls, ceilings and table tops and at public bathes. In some rich towns, it seemed as if every upper-class house contained mosaic pavements. They decorated entrances, halls, dining rooms, corridors and sometimes the bottom of pools. Mosaics in dining rooms were sometimes found with contained bits of discarded food! Usually frescoes were used to adorn the walls.

Only the floors of the servants’ quarters were left bare.

Aside from the prestige value, mosaic floors helped cool interior temperatures in an area of the globe that could be relentlessly hot – an efficient floor covering, waterproofed, durable and easy to walk on

Early Roman mosaics, made mostly of finger-nail size stones, many of which were naturally colored, contained monochromatic designs. As the art form developed they used increasingly smaller pieces to create increasingly more elaborate designs in an increasingly wide variety of colors. The human figures have flesh tones, shading and musculature made with a wide variety of pebbles gathered from the sea and local quarries.

Typical Roman mosaics contained simple geometric designs to breathtaking complex pictures – battles scenes with charging cavalries, mythical scenes with romping gods and goddesses, accompanied by nymphs and satyr, still-life’s of seashells, nuts, fruit vegetables and advancing mice and gladiators. A mosaic from Pompeii showing Alexander the Great battling the Persians was made from 1.5 million different pieces, almost all of them cut individually for a specific place on the picture. Mosaics uncovered at a 1600-year-old Roman villa near the Sicilian town of Piazza Armerina showed women in bikinis exercising with dumbbells. In Pompeii “beware of dog” signs were turned into elaborate mosaics.

Many scholars believe the best mosaics were made in the provinces of North Africa. Portrait of Neptune, made by an anonymous artist in the 2nd century A.D., found on coast of Tunisia is believed to be one of the best.

Did we see any Roman mosaics in our tour? Frankly, don’t know. This piece exhibited in the dimly-lit hall by the side of the Roman Theater in Amman  might be one by reason of its location . But the text on the placard indicates it’s Byzantine. The text uncannily reads like the oft-quoted parable of Two Birds On A Tree from the Rig Veda/Mundakopanishad!


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Byzantine Mosaics

Wall mosaics began to catch on in the late Roman period but it was the Byzantines, dominating eastern Europe and Asia Minor from the A.D. 4th century to the 15th century, who raised mosaics to expression of high art. Romans built mosaic floors while Byzantine Empire as the symbol of Christianity assembled its mosaics in a way to suit religious purposes – it was the translation of Christian theology and political authority into artistic terms. They made mosaic ceilings and upper walls to glorify God and heaven, using teensy-weensy tiles in contrast to the Roman, and often contained a lot of gold and precious and semi-precious stones. No surprise then they were placed on walls, where people couldn’t walk on them. They were made to both dazzle and instruct the people who came to the church, the majority of whom were illiterate. The exterior of the churches that housed the mosaics were usually drab and monolithic.

The Byzantine art of mosaic making reached its zenith in A.D. 5th century. In Ravenna (Italy), artisans used 300 different shaded of colored glass – broken into square, oblong, tesserae and irregular shapes – to compose pictures of landscapes, battle scenes, abstract geometrical patterns and religion and mythical scenes. The glass made it possible for these pieces of art to be glittery in effect and translucent at the same time. However as methods evolved, glass tesserae, known as smalti, was used. They were made by mixing minerals with melted glass in furnaces. Smalti were cut from thick sheets of colored glass which had small bubbles throughout and a rough surface. They were supported with a gold leaf or a reflective silver. This brought patterns to life with the enhanced glimmer they yielded.

We know virtually nothing about the artisans who created the great Byzantine mosaic masterpieces. they didn’t sign their names and scholars are not even sure whether they were Romans or Greeks. That lets me out😊

Sadly, majority of Byzantine mosaics were destroyed or badly damaged due to armed conflicts. Luckily, some still remain and are being preserved.

Luckier than lucky, we managed to see some of them at Mount Nebo and in the church of Saint George at Madaba,

Byzantine Mosaics of Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is a site that is home to some Byzantine churches.  On the highest point of the mountain, Syagha the remains of a Byzantine church and monastery were discovered in 1933. The church was first constructed in the second half of the 4th century to commemorate the place of Moses’ death, believed to be buried on the mountain. The church design follows a typical basilica pattern. It was enlarged in the late fifth century A.D. and rebuilt in A.D. 597. The church is first mentioned in an account of a pilgrimage made by a lady Aetheria in A.D. 394. Six tombs have been found hollowed from the natural rock beneath the mosaic-covered floor of the church. In the modern chapel presbytery built to protect the site and provide worship space, remnants of mosaic floors from different periods can be seen. The earliest of these is a panel with a braided cross presently placed on the east end of the south wall.


This one included here shows men and animals divided into four scenes. The first two depict hunting scenarios, unusual for a place of worship. The other two represent a more harmonic relationship between animals and humans. Reminds us of the zen story of  the tree, the elephant, the monkey, the rabbit and the bird? As for the boundaries of the mosaic, they have a chain-like pattern. How did they achieve the perfect repetition? Did they use some templates?

Try here for a little larger and clearer image.

Curiously, in the first scene, the man on the left faces the lion with a mere spear and the man on the right handles a tiger with a spear and a shield, both men are on their feet, all by themselves. The lion is seen realistically deflecting the thrust of the spear with its paw. In the second scene, both men are mounted on their horses against an elephant (calf?) and a wild boar. Are those hunting dogs accompanying them?  Closer look shows them to have antlers. The spears are long enough to put safe distance between the men and their preys. The shepherd in the third scene is an old man resting on a stone.  No stick in his hand to herd his flock. And, the fourth shows men attending to animals on tether, one of them racially different. It is tempting to speculate the valorous men in the first scene are from high social status until we find the two men on the right in the first and the fourth scene, the latter handling the camel, are dressed almost alike.

The flora and the fauna do not appear well-proportioned. The trees have their main trunk cut! The second one from the right seems to have its branches and leaves upside down. The blooms are pointed in all directions (So, where was the sun exactly?). Why is the camel shown spotted? No grass or pasture plants on the ground for the sheep to chew.

Flaws? No, I would like to think it is stylized representation combined with abstraction yielding a beautiful and riveting mosaic.

Unfortunately, the inscription at the bottom is all Greek, literally and otherwise, to me.

This large piece on the floor, quite like the Roman practice, was uncovered undamaged from under another mosaic of beautiful geometric patterns because of Iconoclasm prevailing from 726 to 846 AD, which decreed that the depiction of humans in icons and mosaics as sacrilegious. Another similar piece nearby may (not) be seen left intact even today, under its cover of a geometric mosaic, for the fear of damaging it in the process.

Much as I wished, I could not keep this one out; for it was not in our itinerary:


The nearby Church of Saints Lot and Procopius, we learn, has an extravagantly tiled floor portraying grape harvest. Does the grape harvest symbolically relate to the wine component in the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist? Shows men stomping on the grapes in wine making! And what’s the man on the right doing? Playing music to the vines or to entertain the men on the left in their arduous task?

Mosaics in the Church of St George, Madaba

The modest looking 19th century St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba, built in the Byzantine-era style, sports a rich collection of mosaics. And, is best known for the spectacular mosaic preserved in the floor of the church. The mosaic dates back to the 6th century, and it consists of around two million differently colored individual pieces of stone. Interestingly, the mosaic doesn’t only depict the local area. Instead, it’s basically a detailed map that includes Palestine; the entire Nile Delta, as well has the Holy Land (Byzantine Jerusalem). The amount of detail is astonishing, complete with landscapes, mountains; livestock and etc.

Not into the geography of the region (what about history, you ask?), I was not able to appreciate its true worth. For the interested, a lot is written about it in the net.

Inside the church, I found this one interesting for a reason:


Unfortunately, the picture is lopped off on either side. So much for my photography☹

This panel shows Jesus on the ground being comforted by his disciples on his side. The minor detail that caught my attention was the depiction of the internal organs as you can see, showing a glimpse of the knowledge of human anatomy prevailing in those times!


In my googling, came across this bewitching mosaic of an anonymous lady famously known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee from Sepphoris (Israel). This was found on the floor of the dining room of a palatial mansion built in 3rd century AD.  I’m sure you wont fault me for including it here though we went nowhere near.




Sources: Collated from blog.mozaico.com/a-journey-through-byzantine-mosaic-art/, Wiki, factsanddetails.com/world/cat56/sub369/item2064.html, helenmilesmosaics.org/blog/walls, manypathstotread.com/, seetheholyland.net/tag/mona-lisa-of-the-galilee/, christusrex.org/www1/ofm/fai/FAImukh9d.html and egypttoursplus.com/madaba-city-of-mosaics/.


Revisiting Padmavati, One Last Time

PSri's Book Blog

(Readers of my blog who aren’t interested in Indian cinema, history and folklore may safely ignore this post and avoid bemusement)

In the legend of Padmavati (to resurrect a dying controversy but move beyond the controversial dream sequence), her husband Ratansen is captured by Allauddin Khilji, who demands Padmavati as ransom for releasing the king. Instead of Padmavati, some brave Rajput soldiers led by the heroes Gora and Badal dress up as Padmavati and her maidens, and are carried into the Khilji camp in veiled palanquins. Once inside, they take the guards by surprise, rescue Ratansen and flee the camp, though a few of them die in the attempt. It’s a very unique story, you’d think, until you hear another story that is startlingly similar, one that supposedly took place 920 years earlier, a story we know purely as legend. It makes you wonder about repeating themes in legend and…

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Why Great Men Are No Longer Born In India?

You don’t have to look far for the reason. It stares in your eyes if you keep them open.

All because of successive Indian Governments aggressively pursuing Family Planning initiatives, particularly Narendra Modi’s.


BBC _78908105_51341829

We didn’t have the tools before. Now thanks to Big Data, we know:

Mahathma Gandhi was the son of the fourth wife of his father.

Babasaheb  Ambedkar was the 14th issue of his father.

Ravindranath Tagore was also the 14th issue of his father.

Subash Chandra Bose was the 9th among the 14 siblings.

Swami Vivekananda was the 6th among the 10 siblings.

So, folks, if our children are where they’re in life, it’s not their (un)doing:-)

You know who to blame!

And all this science-speak of sperms and eggs degrading with age…



Source: Received thru whatsApp; veracity not checked.

Identity Crisis





Source: www




How Wrong Mahatma Gandhi Was!

Would have been a lot simpler winning freedom and history very different if only he had known

Indian Indpenedence





Source: DumpAday.com and Uberhumor.com

It’s Tenali Raman Again

Part 1

The orrargal (eyes and ears of the court) brought back news of wide-spread commotion in the city and its near-about.

Small knots of people collected at street corners, in front of shops, temples, under the trees…and speculating in hushed voices:

‘Someone must have spoken ill of the Gods and the Devas (demi-gods). This will not go unpunished…’

‘May be such blatant and cruel lies were being said against the good that even the Gods wouldn’t hear…’

‘Some evil plans being hatched? Surely we’re going to see some anartham (unthinkable) happening in the days to come…’

At the request of his ministers, Krishnadeva Raya assembled the court in great haste to deal with the situation. His Prime-minister Timmarasa was away leaving it to a stand-in.

‘Bavanna, have we been able to find out what is this all about?’

‘Yes, my lord, the udhyavanam (a large tended park) in the northern outskirts where we camp in summer

‘I know, the place lush with trees and plants…a pretty isolated spot, I thought. So what happened there?’

’My lord, that’s where it happened.’

‘And what happened there? You’re making me repeat myself.’

‘There is an old shrine out there for Sage Narada. A priest from the neighboring village comes every morning to perform the daily pooja; after he is done he locks up the shrine and goes away. Being a little out of the way, the shrine has very few visitors.’

‘Please get to the point.’

‘Yes, my lord. This morning when the priest opened the shrine he found…’

‘What? Were the ornaments stolen? The brass bell went missing?’

‘No, my lord, it’s worse. In this shrine, as customary, the murthy (icon, statue) showed the sage standing erect and front-facing, playing the Mahathi (stringed Veena uniquely attributed to the sage) and carrying khartal in his hands. And today the hands of the icon were lifted up as if to plug his ears. The icon did not appear to be vandalized…no tool marks anywhere. The sage seems to have lifted his hands of his own volition.’

Narada bhagavatam-katha com

‘Obviously the priest was not in his senses or his sight was poor.’

‘No, my lord. I had it checked up subsequently with our own officers going out there. The reports are true.’

There was no interruption from the pensive King.

‘Our folks are very disturbed at this strange happening. They view it as a sure heaven-sent signal of some imminent calamity to befall us. Unless we do something about it in quick time…’

Part 2

The vexed King looked to his officers of the court for some explanations, solutions or suggestions.

‘I think we should immediately dismantle the shrine completely from there. The public memory is short. It’ll all be forgotten soon.’

‘No, this has already made a deep impression on our folks. Won’t be easily forgotten.’

‘We could claim we had arranged for a sculptor to install a new icon in place of the old one that was showing its age.’

‘Won’t wash – what if they ask you why sneak in an icon overnight and striking that unusual pose?’

‘Could be that the sculptor hid a secret feature we didn’t know about in the statue that got triggered somehow.’

‘It might be best to gracefully accept the sage is upset with us for some reason. Let’s call our jyotish’s (astrologers) and acharya’s (guru’s), check with them what prayaschittam’s (acts/rituals seeking forgiveness) are required to please the gods.’

These and other ideas that followed did not satisfy the King.

Tenali Rama dailymotion com

Breaking the silence: ‘My lord, perhaps Raman can help us in this matter?’ hazarded an officer not missing an opportunity to get the former into trouble with the King.

It was the only suggestion that appealed to the King. Tenali Raman had on many occasions in the past saved the day for Raya and the Kingdom.

So a royal missive was immediately dispatched to Raman asking him to accompany the messenger and appear before the court right away.

It was a short wait before Raman arrived. The King asked Bavanna to apprise him on the developments so far.

Part 3

Raya with ashtadig gaja tagc org

‘So, Raman, what do you have to say? We’re eager to hear you.’

‘My lord, very strange indeed. And no wonder it has caused so much panic among our people. But there’s very little else useful to be said standing here. I would like to proceed to the shrine and see things for myself. I’ll report to you, my lord, as soon as I’ve some something significant.’

That was last of Raman seen or heard in the day.

In fact many officers in the King’s court were sure they had gotten rid of Raman for good.

The King retired for the night, at once furious at the lack of communication and concerned for Raman’s safety as forces of an unknown kind seemed to be at play here. It was a night of disturbed sleep for him.

Next morning, as a grouchy and groggy King emerged from his quarters, he was cheerfully greeted by Bavanna.

‘Has Raman come back?’ inquired the anxious King.

‘No sign of him yet, my lord.’

‘Then what’re you grinning about?’

‘My lord, it is good news. Filled with apprehension on what anartham was he to witness today, the priest opened the shrine this morning. And, lo, what does he behold? The sage – he had resumed his normal pose! Like as before. The problem and the panic gone! Life this morning is as usual all over the city.

‘I knew Raman would fix it. So what did he do?’

‘No, my lord, it doesn’t appear Raman had anything to do with it. In fact he is not traceable at all. And frankly we’ve no clue how the sage went back to his original stance. Yes, my lord, for many of us questions of what, why and how still linger on the entire episode. But we’re happy the population at large has gone back to work.’

‘I keep telling you wise guys the entire incident is the product of someone’s rich imagination.’

‘No, my lord, the incident did happen. I can personally vouch for it,’ said a haggard looking Raman, making his way to the King’s presence.

A surprised King inquired: ‘What have you done with yourself, Raman? Did you fight with a storm or ride a rogue elephant? And where have you been? Bavanna here says you never got in touch with us.’

‘Bavanna is right, my lord. But I returned later than midnight and crashed out of sheer exhaustion.  I got up only a little while ago and dragged myself here right away. Pardon my disheveled look, my lord.’

‘So what were you up to since you left the court yesterday morning? Did you know the sage has gone back to his normal pose?’

‘Yes, I know, my lord. But it wasn’t easy persuading him.’

‘What? You persuaded him?’

‘No, my lord. I must correct myself – it was actually quite easy to persuade the sage, but it wasn’t to find the buttons to push.’

‘What are you blabbering? Would you like to rest for a while and then talk?’

‘No, I’m quite alright, my lord. It’s a long story’.

Part 4

Raman’s story:

Tenali-Rama-1 topyaps com

He proceeded from the King’s court and reached the shrine by mid-day. The small shrine was predictably locked. But he could see the sage in his strange pose through a window on the side that was not shuttered firmly.

In all the time he was there he could see no visitors or even passers-by.

Finally he sat on the stone platform – a two-feet wide granite slab resting on a pair of low pedestals – laid out on one side of the front courtyard. Tired he was, he forced himself to think about what next. That’s when he observed a train of ants heading to a spot on the far side of the platform. It was a few spilled grains of cooked rice that were attracting the ants. It meant a visitor who had had his food at the spot. Who would it be? May be he could throw some light. But there wasn’t anyone in the vicinity to ask.

He entered the udhyavanam next to the shrine and made a thorough search covering every nook and corner. His efforts were rewarded when he located the caretaker in his cabin. He was an old man bent with age, failing eye-sight and hard of hearing. How he performed his duties was a wonder. Through gestures he confirmed there were hardly any visitors except for the priest in the morning. However – this was the interesting part – last couple of nights he saw a youngster sitting in the courtyard and in the morning there was no sign of him. As to what the young man was doing he couldn’t say. Obviously the old man did not have the strength at the end of the day to go all the way to the shrine and check. As far as he was concerned, it was better this way – the youngster in the shrine rather than in the udhyavanam.

Again there was no easy way to find out who this youngster was and why did he come to the shrine at late hours. It would be best, Raman thought, to stay back at the shrine and watch it first hand. Hopefully the lad would turn up this night too.  He borrowed a lamp and a few minimum accessories from the old man and set himself up for the night.

The sun went down. It was a signal for the nocturnal insects winged and not-winged to come out. Raman had a tough time keeping the buzz out of the body orifices. Before long a small dot of light suddenly appeared at a distance. Raman’s hear-beat went on high throttle. Once it was clear the light was coming towards where he was he extinguished his lamp not to scare off the visitor. When the figure got closer, he saw it to be a young lad carrying a bag and a lamp entering the courtyard. Raman hurriedly hid himself behind a tree.

The lad settled himself on the stone platform, cleared his throat and launched into a loud unrestrained exercise of his vocal chords.

Two things became instantly clear to Raman: a) why did the lad come to this isolated spot for his sadhana (practice). No village would let him to do within miles and b) why the poor sage did what he did.

It was the most besur (discordant) outpouring Raman had ever heard, more like a goat in the process of its throat being slit.

Mystery uncovered, Raman quickly came out of his hiding reassuring the startled lad he meant no harm. Taking pity on him, Raman spent a few hours teaching him basics of voice and tone control. It was near midnight when they finally parted.

It took a while for the King and Bavanna to return to the present.

The King inquired: ‘How did the sage go back on his stance?’

‘Well, I advised the self-taught youngster to seek the tutelage of a good guru. And cautioned him against returning to the shrine lest he attract the ire of the royal court. That should keep him away for good. Next, through the window on the side I spoke to the sage reassuring him now he was safe from the lad. And in return I requested him to assume his earlier form. Or else…I didn’t think it was necessary for me spell it out.’

Tenali Raman had done it again. Much to the chagrin of his detractors his stock in the court went up by a few notches.



Wiki: The Vijayanagara Empire (also called Karnata Empire and the Kingdom of Bisnegar by the Portuguese) was an empire based in South India, in the Deccan Plateau region. It was established in 1336 by Harihara and his brother Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty. The empire rose to prominence as a culmination of attempts by the southern powers to ward off Islamic invasions by the end of the 13th century. It lasted until 1646 although its power declined after a major military defeat in 1565 by the Deccan sultanates. The empire is named after its capital city of Vijayanagara, whose ruins surround present day Hampi, now a World Heritage Site in Karnataka, India. The empire reached its peak during the rule of Krishnadeva Raya (1509–1529) when Vijayanagara armies were consistently victorious. The empire annexed areas formerly under the Sultanates in the northern Deccan and the territories in the eastern Deccan, including Kalinga, while simultaneously maintaining control over all its subordinates in the south. Many important monuments were either completed or commissioned during the time of Krishnadeva Raya.

Tenali Ramakrishna, who was known as Vikatakavi (jester poet), was a Telugu poet who hailed from the present-day Andhra Pradesh region, generally known for his wit and humor. He was one of the Ashtadiggajas or the eight poets at the court of Krishnadeva Raya.

Source: Adapted from Dhina Thanthi

Images from bhagavatam-katha.com, tagc.org,  dailymotion.com and topyaps.com









The Rock Of Statecraft

‘My Lord, there is one of our men – he is here to see you. He says he has something important to convey,’ the Vizier informed the Raja.

The man ushered in paid his respects to the Raja and the Vizier and said in a hushed voice:
‘Maharaja, Raja of Avanti is hosting in his palace Raja of Matsya. They are holding protracted discussions behind closed doors. They eat together; go out together for hunting, watching exhibition of martial arts…’

This was not good news. Both the kingdoms – Avanti and Matsya – have been giving pinpricks to the kingdom of Vatsa across its western borders. Through other sources too growing belligerency on their part was unmistakably observed in recent times. No open hostilities yet. Vatsa had large enough army of soldiers, horses and elephants to take on any aggression from Avanti or Matsya, but not both together.

‘It is reliably learnt as soon as rains let up and the waters of Tarangini – a wild tributary of River Narmada – abate, they plan to make their moves against Vatsa, their target of long standing.’
Tarangini separated Vatsa from Avanti and Matsya on the west. During monsoon, its waters were treacherous causing grief to anyone who ventured to cross over.

Raja of Vatsa stood silently taking time to digest this piece of intelligence.

The Vizier sent the man away instructing him to keep his eyes and ears open for any further development.

‘What do we do now?’ the Raja wordlessly quizzed his Vizier.

‘Maharaja, give me some time to think,’ the Vizier read his Raja’s mind.

The following morning:

‘Maharaja, could you please call the Peshkar (the Royal Treasurer)?’

Trusting his Vizier implicitly, the Raja summoned the Peshkar.

‘Sir, would be kind enough to fetch two really good diamonds?’ Vizier addressed the Peshkar.

‘You’ll not regret it, Maharaja,’ explained the Vizier.

The diamonds were brought nestled in soft silk.

The Royal Scribe was summoned next and a message was dictated. He knew enough to curb his curiosity and do as ordered with the intriguing message.

The Raja too couldn’tmake out where this was going.

The Scribe produced two identical messages.

The Vizier brought those messages for the Raja to fix his royal seal.

Two identical pouches were procured. In each was placed a diamond Peshkar had brought and a message copy prepared by the Scribe and signed by the Raja.

The pouches were secured against tamper and given to two messengers with instructions to reach them safely to the Raja’s of Avanti and Matsya as personal gifts from Raja of Vatsa . A month’s time was adequate for the gifts to be presented to the Raja’s right on the occasion of Navrathri.

‘But where is the Rock of Trichy? You mentioned it in the message,’ asked the Raja. ’In fact I was not even aware we had one with us.’

‘Of course in Trichy, Maharaja,’ the Vizier winked.

A clueless Raja walked away shaking his head and hoping for the best.

On the first day of Navrathri:

The Raja’s of Avanti and Matsya in their respective kingdoms were surprised to receive personal gifts from Raja of Vatsa.

They liked their diamonds – fine flawless specimens, they were.

But the message had said something more – where was the Rock of Trichy, claimed to be as large as a boulder?

Perhaps the Raja of Avanti has received it, thought Raja of Matsya, ‘I should check with him. Even by half it would still be impressive fixed to my crown.’

The Raja of Avanti felt slighted: ‘Of course Avanti is a bigger land of illustrious past. The Rock of Trichy in the whole should rightfully belong to me. But I’ll be generous enough to accept half. And we have the aasari’s (goldsmiths) to cleave the stone into two without any damage.’

But intriguingly the stone made no appearance either in whole or in half.

One of them was gypping the other.

For the message from the Raja of Vatsa addressed to both the Raja’s had clearly said:

‘…Also I’m sending to one of you the Rock of Trichy, sourced from the fabled mines of Lanka – it’s one of the largest sapphire stones ever mined anywhere in the world. More than anyone else it befits you to be in possession of such incomparable stone. Unfortunately I do not have the skills in my kingdom to break it up into two pieces. You may share it between both of you as you see fit…’
That was the beginning of the long running feud between Avanti and Matsya with the wedge of mutual suspicion firmly in place.

The reason the stone did not show up:

The Rock of Trichy never ever went into either of the pouches.

To add,

the stone did not come from Lanka as claimed.

The Rock of Trichy was mined entirely out of the Vizier’s mind.

And so peace reigned long in Vatsa.

PS: The kingdoms of Avanti, Matsya and Vatsa could be found on the maps of India dated around 600 BCE.


Credits: Based on anecdote on Gonella, a jester of Borda, Duke of Ferrara, from ‘The history of court fools’ by John Doran, via history.inrebus.com; image from Wiki

An Akbar-Birbal Episode Never Told Before!


Emperor Akbar was known to come up with whimsical posers for his court to find answers.

So it was this time too and his question was: ‘What is the most ‘beautiful’ sound?’ ‘Beautiful ‘ meant a sound that one has heard and would like to hear over and over again.

On the appointed day, the court assembled to discuss the Emperor’s question and seek the best answers. Besides the members of the court, the common folks too turned up in good number to watch the proceedings.

Once the question was announced, the responses came in fast and thick:

‘A mountain brook in frolicking flow.’

‘The call of a koel in thick of a mango orchard.’

‘The happy gurgle of a baby on sighting the mother after her absence.’

‘The jingle of gold pieces (currency).’

‘The early morning call of the temple bells.’

‘The tinkle of the anklets of a bashful bride withdrawing behind silk curtains.’

’The prattle of the Emperor’s grandson.’

The suggestions were wild, poetic, philosophical, romantic, humorous, fawning and some bordering on the ridiculous.

However the Emperor did not appear to be happy with what was coming to him.

One of the courtiers observed impatience writ the Emperor’s face and made an appeal: ‘My lord, we see you’re not pleased. May I make a submission?’

‘Go ahead.’

‘Your Highness, we observe Birbal hasn’t spoken a word. Perhaps he could address the question?’

The courtiers were jealous of Birbal’s standing in the court. They did not miss an opportunity to show him in poor light and cause him discomfort.

Akbar turned to Birbal: ‘Yes, I do see you unusually silent today. Would you know what is the most beautiful sound?’

Birbal was cautious: ‘Jahampana, clearly you’ve something more in mind than what you’ve heard here today. I request for some time to find and present it before you.’

‘Birbal, you’ve seven days and we meet again.’


In the following days, Birbal was seen to be busy more than ever. He scoured the city, met people at their houses, visited temples, gardens, palaces and markets and went to all places where people gathered.

When the court assembled again, it was a much harried looking Birbal taking his seat.

Akbar: ‘Birbal, we’re ready for you. And, hope you’ve not returned empty-handed.’

Birbal: ‘I seek your permission to present it before you, my lord.’

Akbar nodded his assent.

Birbal took a bow and turned to the footmen standing at a distance.

On cue, they marched a diffident looking young man right up to the front. Birbal held him by his shoulders seemingly to assure him everything was okay and the man had nothing to fear.

On seeing this piece of drama, a frown appeared on Akbar’s face: ‘My dear Birbal, we are here to hear your response to the question we had posed and you bring a man here

The courtiers perked up to see Akbar pulling up Birbal.

Jahampana, this man here lives in our city at the outskirts and is a carpenter by profession.’

The entire assembly went silent for a few moments feeling quite unsure of what would happen next.

The deep voice of Akbar broke the silence: ’We hope you’re not going to trivialize the subject or be flippant about it.’

‘No, I would never be emboldened to do so, my lord. I assure you this man knows what is the most beautiful sound. And if you kindly permit him to tell us

Barely concealing his impatience and fixing both of them in his stern glare, Akbar allowed him to proceed.

Thereupon Birbal in a slow soothing voice posed the question to the young man.

The young man bowed before the court, paused nervously for a moment and said:‘Sirs, the most beautiful sound I regard is my mother’s snore.’

The entire court was aghast at what they had heard. Birbal must have surely gone out of his mind to produce this man before the Emperor. The courtiers were secretly overjoyed to be a witness to Birbal’s certain fall from favor.

Akbar was visibly annoyed at Birbal: ’If this is some kind of a joke, Birbal, you know we’re not amused.’

Birbal in an assuaging tone: ‘My lord, please bear with me for a minute.’

Turning to the young man Birbal asked him to explain his strange response.

The young man said: ‘Sirs, my father passed away a few years ago. There are only two of us now – my mother and I. Unfortunately for several months now my mother contracted some unknown ailment that no vaidya is able to cure. I’ve called any number of them home to treat her, but to no avail. She has this intense pain in her stomach that does not let her do any work in her waking hours nor does it let her catch a wink of sleep. I’m unable to provide any palliative care besides helplessly watching her suffer. Occasionally out of sheer exhaustion she falls into sleep. And those are the moments I thank the almighty for and her snore at this time is the most beautiful sound to my ears.’

For a perceptibly long time the Emperor could not find his voice, nor the court.


About Akbar and Birbal

Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar also known as Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam or Akbar the Great (1542 – 1605), was the third Mughal Emperor. He was of Timurid descent; the son of Emperor Humayun, and the grandson of the Mughal Emperor Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur, the ruler who founded the Mughal dynasty in India. At the end of his reign in 1605 the Mughal Empire covered most of northern and central India. He is most appreciated for having a liberal outlook on all faiths and beliefs and during his era, culture and art reached a zenith as compared to his predecessors (Wikipedia).

Picture: Akbar receives an official sent by Queen Elizabeth

Raja Birbal (1526 – 1586) was the Wazīr-e Azam or Grand Vizier or the adviser of the Mughal court in the administration of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. He was one of his most trusted members along with being a part of Akbar’s inner council and most valued of nine advisors, known as the navaratna (Sanskrit: meaning nine jewels). Birbal’s duties in Akbar’s court were mostly military and administrative, but he was also a very close friend of the Emperor, who appreciated Birbal for his wit and wisdom, often involving humorous exchanges. These stories have become part of a rich tradition of folklore and legend. ,It also lead to the jealousy of other courtiers., they often trying to put him down in Emperor’s eyes (Wikipedia).

Credit: indianchild.com for the image