Across The Waters Sans Boat Or Bridge – A Children’s Story Of Tenali Raman’s Wit And Wisdom

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The pehalwan from the north was an instant hit. People dropped their jaws watching his amazing acts of physical prowess – he would have a couple of heavy-built locals stand on his out-stretched arm, pull a tree clean off the ground with bare hands or bend iron bars.

It was only a matter of time before he drew the attention of Krishna Deva Raya’s court where he was invited for a display of his strengths before the royalty, senior officials of the court and special invitees. A part of the beautiful palace garden was set up for the show. As a standard courtesy extended to all artistes, on arrival important dignitaries ere personally introduced by Raya to the pehalwan with a few words on who they were. When it was Tenali Raman’s turn Raya went overboard waxing eloquently about his wit. Not given to sharing the stage with anyone else, the pehalwan looked at Raman’s unremarkable presence in a traditional attire, his body language making no secret of where he stood on brawn vis-a-vis brain.  Raya noticed it right away and made light of it cautioning  the pehalwan not to get on the wrong side of Raman.

Introductions concluded, Raya went back to his seat and the pehalwan to his position for commencement of the show. In his opening act he came out cradling a baby, a little large-sized, in his arms; his audience amused at this light-hearted start – a L or XL bear mad with buzzing wasps held in an embrace would have been a more satisfying sight! Soon he was handling the baby like it was a soft-toy, tossing it from here to there, standing it up on his little finger in a ‘Krishna’s Govardhana’ pose, tossing it up overhead and catching it quite nonchalantly. It was in fact a toy for all to see setting everyone at ease – there was no danger to any life. Just when people began to wonder where it was going a wooden table was brought in; and a few of his people joining from the sidelines climbed atop and jumped up and down like they were standing on hot bricks, no one knew why. Were they trying hard to crash the table and failing? The pehalwan holding the baby effortlessly in one hand walked up casually gesturing them to get off. Once the table was clear, he dusted the top with his towel and showing great care and concern laid the baby on its back on the table, seemingly ending the frivolous miming act that no one really understood or even cared.

And perhaps readying himself for his second act, the pehalwan stood a little to the front of the table, taking time to wipe copious sweat streaming off his body. For the first time a few of the onlookers were intrigued – all that sweat in playing with a toy?

Suddenly there was sound like something was crumbling. Next moment they all saw the table crashing down and the baby landing with a thud bringing in a rush the people  who had earlier stomped on the table. They struggled to lift the baby out of the pile of splintered wood. They could not. They devised a rope around its waist and tried to pull with more men joining in to help. The baby wouldn’t budge. All this while the pehalwan stood unperturbed, his face slowly breaking into a hint of a smile.  Finally he stepped forward and shoving aside his men grabbed the baby by its crown and held it aloft on his palm for all to see like it was no more than a soft-toy.

When the penny dropped – this was no ordinary baby to defy the utmost exertions of many and neither was the pehalwan’s feat – he earned a generous round of applause.
And so followed many acts of sheer physical strength that left his audience awe-struck. Like carrying a human pyramid on his shoulders, holding back Raya’s chariot pulled by his prized horses…More than once Raya was seen to be enjoying himself visibly conveying his appreciation. And, so were his guests.

A great show-man he was, the pehalwan played out his acts knowing well how to ratchet up the tempo to a crescendo in a cycle only to be followed by another cycle more challenging, and another, keeping his audience right through on the edge of their seats.
In a final act, he lifted a massive cannon ball of iron and heaved it straight off the palace gardens (of course, landing safely).

As the ovation died down, it was time for Raya to honor the performer suitably and reward the pehalwan with gifts.

Just then, Tenali Raman got up from his seat.

‘My lord, I’ve a small request to make of our esteemed guest. I’m sure it would be easily accomplished compared to the awesome display we saw today.’

The pehalwan confusedly looked at Raya.

Raya gave his nod.

‘Thank you, my lord, for your kind indulgence,’ Raman bowed.

‘It’s like this. Here it is, no cannon ball, only a small piece of cloth. I would like to see it thrown across this stream only a few feet wide. That’s all,’ Raman offered it to the pehalwan with insincere deference.

It was an artificial stream arranged to flow through the garden, fed from the fountains.

Too full of himself with the adulation showered on him, the pehalwan, seemingly exasperated  at the ridiculousness of the exercise, snatched the piece of cloth without a thought from Raman’s hand, made a mock show of bending down under its weight and then, crushing it in his hand, threw it across the stream with all his might as it were. He felt it was quite beneath him to even turn around to check on the outcome. Alas, for him, the piece of cloth, as it would, sailed through the air no further than a couple of feet  before being blown adrift by the mild breeze and dropping down in a crazy swirl into the stream.

Raman was at hand giving the stunned pehalwan another piece of cloth. Again, the result was no different. It was then the pehalwan realized the impossibility of the situation and his own folly in making the attempts.

When a third piece was offered, he shoved it back into Raman’s hands with a gesture that said: ‘All right, Smarty, I got suckered in.  It’s now your turn; try getting out of it, eh?’

Raman was clumsy dropping  the piece of cloth to the ground. He then picked it up, rolled it into a ball, muttered some mantra’s and sent it across the stream. And lo, there it sailed all the way like a cannon ball landing on the far side almost going out of sight.

How did he do it? When and from whom did he learn mantra’s? Raya was dazed as everyone was. The pehalwan fared the worst looking like someone punched him hard in his gut knocking him out of breath.

But first things first. A large-hearted and wise Raya did not allow Raman’s side-show to take the shine off the pehalwan’s hitherto awesome display of muscle power, bestowing on him the honors, words of praise and gifts rightly due to him. A mortified pehalwan made his peace with Raman – no use crossing swords with a guy who pulls potent mantra’s from his scabbard.

It was then Raman leaked out the secret of his mantra’s – there was no mantra’s, no secret. The ball of cloth that he threw across the stream had a pebble inside making the flight perfectly possible. He had picked it up along with the cloth that he had dropped on purpose.

Why did Raman let the cat out of the bag?

If it were not debunked at the earlies, he feared, people including Raya would want him on occasions to invoke those and other mantra’s for causes right or wrong. He would be held up to ridicule for failures, much worse, his loyalty questioned, despite his protestations of innocence and ignorance.

At this the pehalwan could not help laughing over his own imbecility and Raman’s wit. Preparing to leave the town, he gifted his emblematic silver bracelet to Raman and invited him to his home-land to learn from him some real mantra’s.

End 

Source: www, animationxpress.com

Tenali Raman And The Vidooshak (A Story For Children)

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Once hearing about Tenali Raman’s wit and wisdom, a neighboring king requested Krishna Deva Raya to send Raman to his royal court for some days. Raya could not refuse.

Raman was received warmly on his arrival and given a seat of honor with a generous introduction at the court by his host. Predictably it aroused envy in the hearts of the native officers. They bided their time for the right opportunity to pull Raman down from his high pedestal. At the same time they had to be cautious not to offend their king as Raman was a guest of the state.

Their wait was not long. An evening of entertainment was arranged at the court to greet the arrival of Spring. The officers planned to use the court vidooshak (jester) for their purpose. It suited them well for a vidooshak’s acts were never considered seriously and there was no risk of earning the king’s ire

That day the program was well underway with a rich fare of songs, dances, skits, acrobatics, mimicry and magic show. When it was his turn, a roar of expectation from the audience greeted the vidooshak for the last act of the evening. He quickly launched himself with practiced virtuosity of a seasoned artiste.  The contemporary events provided him with ample scope for topical humor interspersed with fun moments around stereotypes at home, at the shop, on the street and even at the court. No doubt the crowd was immensely enjoying it as was the king, seen more than once laughing aloud. Raman too was appreciative of the jester’s antics.

In the final moments of his act, without warning, the vidooshak invited or rather pulled a surprised Raman to the center stage.

A sweeping look at the king, the audience and finally resting on Raman, ‘Dear Sir, you don’t mind helping me with this small act?’

A rhetoric that needed no reply.

‘Sir, I seek your indulgence for the next few minutes. Kindly do the opposite of what I’m doing. Won’t you, please?’

‘Here I stand, please sit.’

A dazed Raman obliged.

‘I open my eyes, kindly close yours.’

Followed by ‘I laugh, would you cry for us, Sir.’

By now Raman recovered his wit; deciding to play along, he gave out a feisty howl that caused the vidooshak to miss his steps.

‘Thank you, Sir,’ the vidooshak said in a mock bow, not betraying his surprise at Raman’s ready and rather animated participation. ‘Now you’ve warmed up, Sir, let’s move to more interesting stuff.’

The vidooshak brought in two picture stands and placed them in full view. The first one had a portrait of a man who had a remarkable resemblance to the king. The other portrait showed a  man looking generally annoyed at life.

‘Sir, these men are real, present here in their portraits.’

He spoke about the first portrait: ‘This man as one may guess is of noble birth and immense wealth, a man in god’s own mold…,’ waxing eloquently on his virtues particularly on his generosity towards the less fortunate.

And pointing to the second, pillorying him at length: ‘Well, a man without anyone to call his own, still amassing wealth through usurious lending, he is everything what the other man is not. It’s said there isn’t a crow, a pigeon or a field mouse in this land that has till date taken a grain off him…’

When he was done, on cue, two rose-garlands were brought. With elaborate ceremony, he took one and garlanded the first portrait.

‘Sir, it’s your turn,’ in mock deference.

Did he have a choice? Do or don’t, either way he was damned, it seemed.

Without hesitation, Raman picked up the second garland and arranged it neatly over the second portrait. And, stood there casting a mischievous glance all around.

A gleeful vidooshak saw Raman fair and square in his trap: ‘Honestly, Sir, we’re shocked – I’m sure our majesty too joins me when I say this. Perhaps you saw some merit in him that remained completely indiscernible to one and all in this august assembly. Could you kindly enlighten us on the same?’

‘Oh, that’s simple,’ Raman paused for effect.

All necks craned forward in hushed silence to catch his words.

‘Well, this man of noble birth of course had shared his wealth with others – a very laudable gesture.’ Raman sneaked a glance at the king nodding in approval.

‘But look at the other guy. He denied himself his own wealth living a miserly life unlike the man of noble birth who did enjoy his besides being generous; and the miserable fellow is destined to leave everything he has for others after his time with none to bequeath to;.again, quite unlike the man you garlanded with offspring’s to enjoy their inheritance thereafter.’

A few moments of silence for the words to sink in followed by a long burst of applause from the audience lead by the king himself, thrilled to see the legendary Raman best his poor adversary.

End

Source: Inspired by a story from bhagavatam-katha.com and image from dailymotion.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.’

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‘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.

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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

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‘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:

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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.

End

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Water-Melon For A King

A Tenali Raman episode:

This was the time when the Vijayanagara Empire was under constant threat from the Bahmini sultans of the Deccan, the powerful Gajapathi’s of Orissa and also the Portuguese, a rising maritime power, not to mention a few rebellious feudal chiefs. Timmarasu, also fondly known as Appaji, the wily and able Prime Minister serving in the court of Krishna Deva Raya, helped the latter in steering the Empire on a safe course in these troubled times. During one of those spells of relative quiet, Appaji requested Raya for leave of absence to visit Kashi. With the King reluctantly acquiescing, Appaji looked high and low for a suitable stand-in and finally settled for Ragoji.

Ragoji, though honest and unswervingly loyal to the King, had neither the experience nor the mental acuity of Appaji. On matters of the state, he strongly believed in ‘looking at it from all angles,’ causing inordinate delays. The administrative machinery came to grinding halt; but the frustrated officers were afraid of complaining to Raya. Even Tenali Raman was not spared – a couple of projects in his village were parked in limbo and there wasn’t much he could do about it.

Meanwhile,

On this day, Raya was out with an officer on his customary incognito rounds of the city. A little away from the main market, under a tree, a fruit-seller had piled water-melons freshly picked from the farms. Besides the pile, on a table there was a single water-melon, lustrous than the rest, being polished by the seller with great care. An intrigued Raya stopped by to ask the seller why he was paying special attention to this fruit. The seller informed him this fruit was very special, of extraordinary sweetness. It was from a plant of rare kind producing just one fruit in a year. And he had saved it for the King, planning to take it to the durbar on Paurnami, the following day. He expected handsome compensation from the King for a fruit of such rare merit.

A great idea it was, Raya agreed and promised to help him meet up with the King when he came to the durbar. But he should come before noon as the King was likely to be away later in the day according to his palace sources. Before they rode away, the seller thanked him for the gesture and gratefully presented him with a fruit picked up from the pile. He had not noticed a signal passing from Raya to the accompanying officer, perhaps to make suitable arrangements on the following day.

The day was Paurnami. The morning saw Raya preoccupied with the deal of procuring Arab horses for his cavalry offered by the Portuguese. Ragoji tied him up in knots with his arguments and counter-arguments leaving Raya in a fret. It was past noon and yet there was no sign of the fruit-seller.

The officer who had accompanied Raya on the day earlier, went out to the market looking for him and returned empty-handed. There was no one at the spot and inquiries revealed the fruit-seller had carted away all his stock in the morning. And where he went, no one knew.

It did nothing to improve Raya’s humor slipping from bad to worse.

On second thoughts, the officer went up to the guards at the palace gates and made inquiries. They readily confirmed a fellow had come earlier in the day carrying a water-melon in his hands. As instructed they were letting him in. Suddenly from nowhere Raman appeared on the scene. He raised his voice with the man though no one could make out what was said, took away the fruit and shooed him away. The man was almost in a run as if a ghost was close at his heels. And, what did Raman do? He walked away in a saunter seemingly to his house with the fruit in hand.

When he was apprised of the proceedings, Raya was furious. He ordered for Raman to be produced before him without delay. He had to be punished for his misdeed – there was no getting away this time. He had exceeded his limits of propriety.

And soon, Raman appeared before Raya. He carried a plate in his hand with a piece of silk draped over.

Raya in the manner of a fire-breathing dragon brusquely demanded he explain his abominable behavior or else…

Showing fear and deference appropriate for the occasion, Raman said: ‘My Lord, it is true I took the fruit from the man.’

‘You admit it?’ roared the King.

‘Yes, Sir, but for a reason.’

‘It better be good else be prepared to lose your head.’

‘My Lord, I took the fruit home, carved out a piece from one side, tasted it – it was extraordinarily sweet as the man had claimed, in fact it was heavenly. But I had to be sure. I took out piece from the other side. It was the same thing. And then another piece from here, and another piece from there and another piece from here…Now I’m satisfied. No enemy hands, as rumored and I had feared. Had to look at it from all angles and check it out personally. One never knows – the fruit was big and, our enemies, ingénues. And, after all my life is nothing before yours, Sir.

In a flourish, he whisked away the silk to reveal a tiny cube of the fruit at the center of the plate: ’Now this is quite safe for you to eat, Sir. My Lord, I’m also ready for any punishment you order for looking at a potential threat from several angles to protect your life.’

Before Raya could react, a stung Ragoji rose to his feet: ‘My Lord, we must ask Tenali how could anyone poison an uncut water-melon.’

‘I wouldn’t put it past them to use a sharp needle or a thorn to inject poison. And with a water-melon it could be done from so many angles.’

‘Very clever, Tenali. You eat the fruit brought for me and expect me to thank you for the act?’

‘Well…’

‘I won’t be too surprised if the entire drama was authored by you. Anyways we get the message, Tenali.’

So Tenali Raman lived to see another day.

To everyone’s relief, Ragoji not excluded, it wasn’t long before Appaji returned from Kashi.

End

Krishna Deva Raya was the famed Emperor of the Vijayanagara Empire reigning from 1509–1529 CE. Tenali Raman was his court jester – tales of his wit are legendary.

Paurnami is a full-moon day. Durbar is the royal court.

And, don’t look for this episode in the published tales of Tenali Raman!

The Enchanted Mango

Part 2

(Contd.)

‘My Lord, the pot was full with water. I lifted it quickly and poured the water over the rishi’s head. And tossed the empty pot away to one side. At once several things happened. The scarlet robe lost its color and turned dark much as wet clothes do. Clinging to the rishi’s body the robe did not billow any longer nor the tassels fluttered. With the color and motion died down the unnerved bull calmed down a little. The earthen-pot crashing noisily on the ground and breaking into pieces was another distraction to the bull. In this time the rishi jumped up from his meditation quite startled by the fall of cold water on his head and body. I could quickly push him into the safety of the hut.’

Inside the hut the dazed rishi was livid with rage. His eyes were wide, boring down on me ready to reduce me to a heap of ashes. Without losing a second I prostrated at his feet. Still agitated, he ordered me to get up onto my feet and demanded to know why I did what I did.

At the end of my explanation, the rishi was thoroughly mollified and was profusely thankful. I took his leave not before he presented me as a gesture an enchanted mango that would render its partaker invincible against his enemies.

For a man of peace like me, it had little value. I have brought the mango with me to offer you, my Lord, as a present. So here it is just the way the rishi gave me.’

He pulled out the mango out of a cloth bag and set it on a plate in front of the King on the right.

The awe-struck King on the right took the mango and ran his hand over it in a reverential caress. He took a piece of cloth and carefully polished off whatever appeared to be sticking to the oozing sap.

Breaking into a smile, he said, ‘Kindly give it to him,’pointing out to the King on the left.

Whereupon Raman took it to the King on the left.

The King on the left politely refused directing Raman to the King on the right, ‘Kindly give it to him.’

‘Pardon me for the little ruse. You’re the King, my Lord,’ Raman jumped up addressing the King on the right.

There was dead-silence for a few seconds before the entire court and the King stood up and applauded Raman.

Once the applauses died down, the Chief Minister had a question: ’Raman, would you please tell us how did you identify our King.’

‘Well, at first the King on the right was happy to receive the enchanted mango. When he handled the fruit he found pieces of straw sticking to the oozing sap. And I had said the fruit was just the way it was given to me by the rishi. He guessed no rishi would be using packing straw to wrap around the fruit and the fruit was in all likelihood bought in the local market and the whole story was made up. So he asked me to offer the fruit to the King on the left.

The King on the left – it was his response that settled the matters. He had not known the fruit was an ordinary one. If he were real, he would not refuse the offer. If he were the actor King, he would consider it as his bounden duty to ensure his real King got the enchanted fruit.

So there it is. I knew the straws wouldn’t escape your keen eyes, my Lord.’

The King was impressed – he showered gifts on Raman and requested him to stay with him in his palace for a few more days before continuing his journey to Kashi.

Tenali Raman happily obliged.

End

The Enchanted Mango

It’s time for a ‘Tenali Raman’ piece.

Part 1

Tenali Raman on his way to Kashi stopped briefly at Warangal. The news reached the King of the land and he sent out an emissary to Raman inviting him to his court that the latter gladly accepted.

Following morning, Raman reached the palace and was warmly received by the King’s officers and was escorted to the royal court.

The Chief Minister of the court rose up from his seat to formally welcome Raman, expressing the court’s happiness on his visit. So much was heard about Raman, he added, a small challenge was set up for Raman on this occasion to display his redoubtable wits and regale the court. On cue a silk curtain at the head of the Durbar Hall was drawn back to reveal two kings looking alike in their physique, dress and mannerisms sitting in identical thrones! Raman had to figure out who was the real King. He was not to ask them any questions or bid them to do anything tantamount to giving themselves away.

Raman had no choice but to accept the challenge.

In turn, he sought the King’s indulgence that he should not be punished if in the process he incurred the King’s displeasure in any way. It was granted as long as his act did not bring down the decorum of the court.

The packed court was in hushed silence as the stage was set for the rare show to unfold before them.
Raman had not seen the King before. Though there were differences quite evident to a keen observer like Raman, he could not still make out the real from the actor.

He looked around to see if there was a Queen present in the court and check who among the two she was focusing on. Unfortunately for him, all the women of the court sat at a distance behind a transparent screen. Next, he panned the front-seated important-looking officials in the audience for a face similar to either of the Kings, perhaps a brother or a cousin.

No luck there.

Mmm…he had to think of something different.

‘If you permit, my Lord, I would like to share with you an interesting experience I had while coming into this city,’ Raman bowed before the two seated Kings and the court.

Raman’s simple but clever ploy did not work – both exchanged glances and smilingly nodded their assent at the same time! It was clear they had anticipated the wiles of Raman and were coordinating their well-rehearsed responses quite flawlessly.

He continued: ‘On the day I reached this charming city, it was about a nazhigai (24 minutes) before the sunset. I was taking a path cutting through dense thicket of trees and bushes that screened out most of the failing sunlight. I’m not shy to admit my horse and I were a little scared listening to all those calls of wild animals and birds in the surrounding darkness. After some distance suddenly we came upon this hut from behind sitting at the edge of a clearing.

Both curious as well as desirous of a brief rest-break I dismounted my horse, tethered it to a tree and walked around noiselessly to the front of the hut. And what do I find?’

Raman paused in his narration for a moment surveying his audience, their interest, by now, sufficiently stoked.

‘There was this rishi sitting on the thinnai (a raised platform on either side of the main entrance) front on a deer-skin mat and engaged in deep meditation. There was no other sign of life from inside the hut. While I was mulling over my next course of action, I heard a snort coming in somewhere from the clearing. When I looked around, I could see its source – at some distance away, a wild-bull with its head down and feet pawing the ground. Clearly it was ready for a charge at the rishi and the hut. Only then did I notice…’

Raman again broke his story at this point to gauge the audience. They were hanging onto his words, gulping it hook, line and sinker.

‘Only then I noticed the scarlet robe covering the upper torso of the rishi. The slight breeze was causing it to billow out at the back and the tassels to flutter. The color and the motion – just right to enrage the bull.

For a moment, I was at my wit’s end on how to save the rishi who was completely oblivious to the bristling menace. It looked like Yama’s mount. It was then I noticed an earthen-pot in the corner of the thinnai. Thanks to the earthen-pot, I was able to stave off the imminent danger.’

‘Pray tell us how could you ward off a charging bull with an earthen-pot, Raman?’ Unable to hold himself back, the King seated on the left spoke for the first time.

Would an actor King, if he were, have the courage to speak up when the real King is silent? May be he was the real King. But then senior ministers are known to speak up before their King and he was one? The King on the right sported an amused look as if he knew the answer. May be he was the real one and he had somehow guessed what had transpired. For, the real King was known to possess an intellect of high order.

Raman gave up speculating and proceeded to respond to the King on the left.

(To be contd.)