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Tenali Raman

Tenali Ramakrishna was a court-poet of Krishnadeva Raya of the Vijayanagara empire. He was known for wit and prodigious poetry in Telugu. He was popularly known as Tenali Raman.

Tenali Raman was called a vikata kavi. He was one of the Ashtadiggajas of the Vijayanagara court.

Clown, jester, poet…Tenali Rama, minister in the court of the ruler of Vijaynagar, Krishnadeva Rai (reign: 1509-30), was a multi-faceted personality. Stories, about Tenali Rama and his practical jokes on everyone around him, including distinguished fellow poets and the emperor himself, abound in south India.

His fame spread beyond Vijaynagar (present-day Andhra Pradesh), to areas that come in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka today. Tenali Rama was also a great scholar of several languages that included Marathi, Tamil and Kannada.


Tenali Raman - The Messenger

The kingdom of Vijayanagara had not been enjoying good relations with its neighbouring state for a very long time. Jealous opponents of Tenali Rama, the king's minister, found it the perfect opportunity to damage his reputation. So they went about poisoning Krishnadeva Raya's mind against him.

One day, when the king sat in his chamber pondering over the affairs of the state, one of his courtiers came up and whispered into his ear: "Your Majesty, have you heard the latest?"

The king was surprised and exclaimed: "No, I have not! What's going on?"

In his gravest voice, the courtier answered: "Your majesty, I will tell you only after you promise not to harm me."

"Don't be silly," laughed the king. "Say whatever you want to; you need not be afraid of me."

"Your Majesty, Tenali is on the payroll of the neighbouring king. He has been spying on us for them."

"What are you talking about?" asked the king angrily.

"I told you, your Majesty. This has been going on for a long time. But you would not listen to a word against Tenali. He has cast such a spell on you that you refuse to even think that he might betray you."

"Tenali Ram is faithful to the kingdom. He cannot do this. You have been misinformed," the king replied with confidence.

But the courtier convinced the king to regard the statement with some gravity and not dismiss it outright. Those were times of great intrigue.

"Your majesty, I am fully confident about the truth of my information. Do you think I would have spoken to you without verifying such the information?" said the courtier.

Now the king was obliged to turn the statement over in his mind. He promised to get the matter investigated and said that if Tenali Rama was found guilty, he would be punished.

The king sent for Tenali Rama the following day. Without wasting time on preliminaries, he asked the minister whether he was in league with the neighbouring state.

The question shocked Tenali Rama so much that he was stunned and could not say anything. 


When Krishnadeva Rai found him silent, he became angry and thundered: "Your silence says you accept the charge."

Deeply hurt that the king could doubt his loyalty, Tenali Rama said he refused to answer to such a preposterous charge.

This made the king even more angry. He ordered Tenali Rama to leave his kingdom.

Tenali Rama was surprised at the mildness of the punishment. Acts of treachery against the state earned the offender the death sentence in those days.

The king had his reasons, however. "I have decided on such a mild punishment for you because of your high stature, and the fact that we have enjoyed the best of relations thus far. Had it been anyone else, I would have got his head severed."

Tenali Rama did not say a single word in his defence and went away with his head bowed.

When his enemies heard that Tenali Rama had been expelled from the kingdom their joy knew no bounds.

Tenali Rama now reached the neighbouring state and met the king there. He recited a poem in praise of the king. That pleased the king very much. He asked Tenali Rama who he was and when Tenali Rama revealed his name, the king welcomed him warmly. He had heard much about Tenali Rama's sagacity.

But the king was surprised to see Tenali Ram in his court. "Raja Krishnadeva Rai considers me his enemy. So what are you doing here?"

The minister replied: "Majesty, you are a learned man. You have great strength. You are a good administrator and wish your people well. Our king also possesses all these virtues. He regards you as a friend and he has send me to remove the existing misunderstanding between us."

The king was surprised. "Your king considers me a friend? But our spies warned us that Krishnadeva Rai was thinking of attacking us."

Tenali Rama said: "Our spies have fed our king the same pack of lies. That is why he has sent me to you. Has war ever benefitted anybody?"

The king was impressed by Tenali Rama's story. He said: "I do not want war, either. But how can I believe that Krishnadev Rai really wants peace?"

Tenali Rama suggested that the king send a messenger with gifts and a message of peace to Vijaynagar. And if king Krishnadeva Rai accepted the gifts, it would mean that he, too, wanted to be friends. But if he returned the gifts, then obviously, he wanted war.

The king had one doubt. "Won't it be an insult to me if I sent the message first?"

Tenali Rama had a ready answer. "I have come with the message of peace and so it is us who have made the first move."

The king liked the sound of that and sent his special messenger to Vijaynagar the next day.

Meanwhile, king Krishnadeva Rai had come to know that Tenali Rama was innocent and that the courtiers had conspired against him. As soon as the messenger from the neighbouring state reached him with costly gifts, he was delighted.

He was full of praise for Tenali Ramaa's wisdom and sent his own minister with gifts to the neighbouring state, with a request that the king send back Tenali Ram.

And when Tenali Rama returned to Vijaynagar, King Krishnadeva Rai warmly welcomed him and offered him gifts.

He also promised to punish the clique of courtiers who had poisoned his ear against his favourite minister.

Tenali Raman and the Eggplants

King Krishnadeva Rai had some superior quality eggplants plants growing in his private garden. No one was allowed to view the garden without the king's permission, let alone taste the eggplants.

Once the king invited his courtiers to a feast in which the eggplants was served. Tenali Rama enjoyed the vegetable so much that he talked to his wife about it on returning home - so much so that she insisted on tasting it.

"How can I get them for you?" Tenali Rama asked. "The king is so possessive about the vegetable that he can detect the theft of even one eggplant from his garden. And, I'm sure that he would want the thief's head chopped off right then, if he caught him red-handed.

But Tenali's wife begged him to allow her to taste the eggplants.

Tenali Rama was helpless. After much deliberation, he agreed to his wife's demand. One night he quietly jumped into the king's garden and plucked a few eggplants from the garden. His wife cooked them with zeal and was all praise for the taste. She wanted to let their six-year-old son also taste the vegetable, but Tenali Rama asked her not to.

"Don't make such a mistake", he warned her. "If he happens to tell somebody, we will be in deep trouble." 
But his wife did not agree. "How is that possible? How can we eat something whose taste we shall remember forever and not share it with our son! Find a way out so that he gets to taste the vegetable and nobody is able to prove that we stole it from the king's garden."

Tenali Rama had no option but to nod his head in agreement.

He filled a bucket with water and went upstairs to the roof where his son was sleeping. He poured the water on the child. Then he picked up the child and said: "It is raining. Let us go inside the house."

Once in, he got the child's clothes changed and gave him the vegetable to eat. He again remarked that it was raining outside, and let the boy sleep in the room.

The next day the king came to know of the theft in his garden. The royal gardener who kept a head count of each vegetable and flower, found one eggplant missing. It became the talk of the town. The king declared a huge prize on the thief's head.

Chief Minister Appaji suspected that only Tenali Rama was capable of such an audacious act. He let the king know about his suspicion.

The king said: "I know he is very clever and always gets out of charges on one pretext or the other. It is better that we call his son. We will find the truth through him. Tenali will lie to get out of any situation, but he would never ask the child to do so."

Tenali Rama's son was called. He was asked what vegetable he ate the night before. The child replied: "Eggplant - and it was the tastiest vegetable I've ever eaten."

Chief Minister Appaji told Tenali Rama: "Now you will have to accept your guilt."

"Why should I when I'm not guilty?" replied Tenali Rama. "The boy went to sleep very early last night and seems to have had many dreams. That is why he is talking nonsense about eggplants and rain and what not. Ask him if it rained last night or not."

Appaji asked the child: "How was the weather last night? Was the sky clear or did it rain?"

The child replied: "It rained heavily last night. All my clothes got wet when I slept on the roof." The fact was, not a single drop of rain had fallen on Vijaynagar that day.

Appaji had no option but to get rid of his suspicions in the face of such apparent madness.

He apologised to Tenali Rama for having suspected him.

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