The Vijaya Nagar Empire has a prominent place in the pre-independence period of the Indian sub-continent. Sri Krishna Deva Raya, among the rulers of the Vijaya Nagar Kingdom, has transformed his regime into a Golden Era for the history books.
This was possible through Raya courage, righteousness and revered patronage. A Poet named Tenali Raman, added feathers to the crown of reputation of Raya. Tenali Rama, as he was famous by, belonged to a town called Tenali and that stuck as his Surname.
Raya court known as ‘Bhuvana Vijayam’ (Global Victor) was strongly upheld by eight poets called “Ashta Diggajas” (Elephants taking care of all the eight sides). Those eight’s combination was the strongest ever and was invincible for any scholar or Master of Arts and Sciences during those days. Tenali Raman shined among the eight as a precious diamond in the diamond studded crown.
Bhuvana Vijayam was host for discussions, arguments, and competitions of the learned and masters, almost all through the rule of the King Sri Krishna Deva Raya.
Ramalinga was stern and sarcastic in his wit to puncture the shields of proudness the others had.
The records also state that Tenali Raman was instrumental in protecting the King Raya and his prestige many a time, coming to his rescue in critical situations. A popular story among the commoners narrates how Tenali Raman protected the Vijaya Nagar Empire from getting into the clutches of Delhi Sultans through his timely wit interlaced with a perfect strategy.
The most popular stories about the lifestyle, combination, and co-ordination of Raya and Tenali Raman spread the message of intellect, time tuning, and strategic stroking besides lively wit and humour.
This is an attempt to present some of the selectively collected stories for children to hold their bellies before they read the laughing gas about the ‘activities’ of Tenali Raman in and out of the royal court of Krishna Deva Raya.
Birth And Education of Tenali Raman
Bhuvana Vijayam, the royal court of Sri Krishna Deva Raya comprised of eight wise and learned men collectively titled as Ashta Diggajas. Tenali Raman was prominently one among them. He was also known as Tenali Ramakrishna.
Tenali Raman was known for his attentiveness, alertness, time tuning, wit, and intelligence. Ramalinga said to be hailing from Tenali town, set it as his surname. In the modern times, Tenali is an small village on the banks of Holy River Krishna.
Tenali Raman was popular as Vikatakavi. Right from his childhood, Tenali Raman was centre of attraction among the children of his age groups in the region. His versatile mentality, intellect and aggressiveness brought him laurels and fame.
A Saint passing by, one day watched Tenali Raman closely and could identify the ‘celestial spark’ shining from within him. The Saint, as he was in the devotional path, also recognised the inherent qualities of command and intelligence interlaced in Tenali Raman.
The Saint called Rama by name and asked him to accompany to a place. With the natural quality of fearlessness, Raman accepted the invitation without even asking, “where to?” The Saint and Raman walked little away from the crowd and reached Goddess Mahakali Temple in the woods.
Arranging to perform a divine sacrifice to please the Goddess Mahakali, the Saint told Raman, “My dear child! I am growing old and gradually losing the physical strength to perform puja to seek the blessings of the Goddess Mother.”
He continued, “You are having all the qualities and blessings of the Mother to please Her and receive Her blessings.” Preaching a mantra into Tenali Raman’s ear the Saint said, “Chant this mantra continuously and pray the Goddess every evening. Put in all your concentration and strength to please the Goddess. Goddess Mahakali will shower many boons on you.”
After the sacrifice, the Saint left the place and never returned there. It had become a routine for Tenali Raman to chant the mantra and pray the Goddess Mahakali every evening, at the designated Temple in the woods. Time passed by, and Raman continued his prayers.
One day, Goddess Mahakali appeared in front of Raman in the form of a Motherly figure. She was holding two small silver bowls in her palms. She started speaking to Rama in a blissful tone, “My Child! I am pleased with the prayers you had been offering to me. I wish to bless you with a boon. You see the two utensils on my palms. One is filled with milk and the other with curd.” Raman was looking at her with shining eyes.
Goddess continued, “If you consume the milk, you will be a great scholar. In case, you wish to take the curd, you will be blessed with riches for all your life. However, take caution. You should take only one of them.”
With a lightening speed, Raman not bothered by the Goddess’ words grabbed both the bowls from Her hands and gulped down the contents. Goddess Mahakali was puzzled with his act. “What did you do?” She questioned him. Unmoved Raman answered in a requesting tone, “ Hey Mother! Goddess Jaganmatha! What is the use of becoming a scholar without any wealth? Similarly, there will not be any purpose to the riches without intelligence. Hence, I thought I should have both of them and drank the contents of both the utensils. Kindly pardon me Mother, if I had done any mistake.”
Mother Mahakali was pleased with his frankness and analytical evaluation at that tender age. Imposing some sanctions, She blessed Tenali Raman with two boons before She disappeared. She said, “You will have both intellect and wealth. There will be problems with the riches you gather by associating with the rulers. The poetry you author will be filled with uniqueness.”
Tenali Raman was extremely happy over the happenings. He thought the boons were apt to his nature and versatile psychology.
There were many occasions wherein Tenali Raman emerged as a centre of attraction with his versatile acts, wit, and humour filled conversations. Of course, sarcastic element was the prime composition of Tenali Raman.
Tenali Raman’s Entry Into Bhuvana Vijayam
Tenali Raman was mischievous during his childhood. His childishness cheered some and troubled some. His activities were pleasure to some and humiliation to others. Once, while Tenali Raman was pursuing his academics, the provincial ruler visited the school as part of checking the standards of the school.
He questioned the children in the classroom, “Who among you is the most intelligent?”
Silence spread in the class. No child dared to give reply to the King’s question. Meanwhile, Tenali Raman sprung up from his seat and answered with confidence, “I am the intelligent student in the class.” The King appreciated Tenali Raman’s confidence and courage. Calling him closer, the King enquired him about several things and blessed him, “You will go places my child.”
Similarly, Tenali Raman grew big and made his presence felt in history.
Tenali Raman practised poetry and composition along with command on language and grammar. Mingling with a group of minstrels, he learnt the art of spontaneous poetry composing techniques at Tenali.
He made himself a perfectionist in Sanskrit and Telugu languages. Gradually, in the natural process of growing up, he was married and was blessed with children. From then onwards, he was compelled to find ways to earn a living and feed his family.
He learnt that Vijaya Nagar ruler Sri Krishna Deva Raya was a revered patron for poetry and poets besides being a scholar in Kannada, Andhra and Sanskrit languages on par. Every poet and scholar with some skill in the vast Vijaya Nagar empire was longing for getting into the Bhuvana Vijayam, the royal court of Raya. Tenali Raman headed for Vijaya Nagar with a similar thought and wish in him.
First, he approached the royal priest Thathacharya and laid his heart before him, after exhibiting his skills. Thathacharya promised Tenali Raman to introduce him to the King Raya. Satisfied Tenali Raman spent many a days in vain, waiting for the opportunity.
Tenali Raman was vexed and started hunting for alternative ways that would gain entry into the court. He then located Nandi Thimmana, another scholar who had a permanent place in the royal court. Tenali Raman approached Thimmana and appeased him with his expertise in spontaneous poetry.
Thimmana felicitated Tenali Raman by presenting him with a Kashmir Shawl, which was presented to him by King Raya the previous day for his performance.
The next day, Tenali Raman adorning the Kashmiri Shawl on his shoulders walked into the royal court. King Raya was discussing various issues with the courtiers at that time. Raya was surprised to see a stranger in the Shawl that was presented to Thimmana couple of days before. A straight question came from the King Raya, “Where did you get this shawl?”
With all humbleness Tenali Raman replied, “My King! Thimmana could have satisfied you with his proficiency. I was fortunate enough to please that great personality with my poetry. Thimmana, pleased with my expertise…” he continued, “presented me this shawl felicitating me at his residence. I am wearing this to exhibit my competence.”
Sri Krishna Deva Raya was impressed by the way Tenali Raman presented himself in the court. The King also appreciated the intelligence and presence of mind Tenali Raman had. Immediately Raya offered a position to Tenali Raman in his court.
Thus was the entry of Tenali Raman into Bhuvana Vijayam.
The Last Wish – Mango Fruit
Once when King Sri Krishna Deva Raya was ruling the Vijaya Nagar Empire, the royal motherof the king fell sick and was bedridden. The medical professionals of the court declared that there was no chance for her to survive this episode and that she grew too old to respond to any medication.
One morning, she summoned Raya to her presence. “My Dear Son! I realise that I am close to death’s door. I also do not have any hopes that my health would become better. However, I have a last wish.”
She paused and asked, “Can you accomplish it for me before my soul is taken away?”
Rayalu was the King . His mother was on the deathbed, expressing her last wish. How could he turn away from it? He gently said, “Mother! Please tell me I will definitely accomplish your last wish” he assured.
“I…” she added, “…wish to eat a mango fruit, can you get me one?” in a feeble tone the mother asked Raya.
It was early summer. Trees had just started bearing tender fruits. There was no guarantee that royal mother would live until the tender ones ripened on the tree, Raya thought. It was also an insult to his royalty, if he was unable to fulfil his mother’s last wish.
Immediately the King ordered his soldiers to scan through the fields of the kingdom and bring some ripe mangoes at any cost, immediately. The soldiers plunged into action. They did their best and returned with a basket filled with ripe mangoes. Eventually, just before the soldiers could place the basket before their King, king’s mother breathed her last.
Raya was taken aback, for being unable to fulfil the last wish more than for her demise. He was shook deeply with the thought that his mother was dead even before her quench for mangoes was fulfilled. He slowly started to sink day after the day with the thoughts that were ripping him.
Raya invited Royal Master Thathacharya, explained his struggle, and sought an advice that would take the suffering off from him.
Thathacharya thought for a while and told the King, “My king! Your mother was fond of giving alms to the poor and needy. Her soul would rest in peace, if you can fulfil her last wish through donations. Order for preparing mangoes with gold and distribute them to Brahmins of the country.”
The news spread like wildfire in the kingdom that Raya was doling out golden mangoes to Brahmins in the memory of his mother. Brahmins from all over the empire started flooding into the capital to accept the golden mango from the King. Day in and out, long queues were always seen only to add people to its tail.
With this, the gold reserves in the exchequer were melting down rapidly. Raya not bothering about the consequences was incessantly involved in donating golden mangoes to the Brahmins. He never heeded to the pleas and warnings of the Chief Minister Thimmarusu in this regard.
Thimmarusu was in confusion and did not know how to stop the King. He approached Tenali Raman and urged for a solution to this in the interest of the kingdom and its people. Tenali Raman assured Thimmarusu that he would check it at the earliest. “Go home and have a sound night sleep, Chief Minister. Everything will be alright by tomorrow evening” Tenali Raman sent off Thimmarusu.
Next morning, Tenali Raman went near the long queues and watched what was happening. He then selected a yard close to the queues and sat there, ordering the queue maintenance persons to send each of the Brahmins to him before sending him to Raya for the golden mango.
Everyone knew that Tenali Raman was one of the close associates of the King. They thought that Tenali Raman was doing so on the orders of the King and started sending the Brahmins first to Tenali Raman before sending them into the palace.
Tenali Raman told every Brahmin that there was a slight amendment to the donation process. “The King Raya wished to donate the golden mangoes to those who bore a blister from him” Tenali Raman explained. Brahmins desirous of the gold first had a burn on their backs and went for the King’s gold.
This went on until afternoon. In the later afternoon, one Brahmin pleaded Tenali Raman to give him two burns and two golden mangoes. Tenali Raman immediately fulfilled the Brahmins wish.
Then the Brahmin approached Raya. As usual, Raya handed him one mango. The Brahmin immediately requested the King, “My Lord! I had two burns please give me two golden mangoes.”
The King Raya did not understand what was happening. He enquired, “What burns?” Then the Brahmin narrated the entire story about Tenali Raman and burns to Raya.
The King shivering with anger called for Ramalinga and questioned him, “Tenali Raman, what is happening. Why are you doing this brutality on these poor and innocent Brahmins?”
Tenali Raman very politely and innocently, as if nothing was amiss, explained. “My Dear King! I am an unlucky person. Recently my mother succumbed to a chronic disease. She wished all during her bed ridden period to cauterise her back so that she could become healthy and live longer.”
Wiping the tears dropping on his cheeks, Tenali Raman continued, “Probably she would have lived. Nevertheless, I did not heed to her requests. She died with it on her lips. I thought of presenting it to the Brahmins, as I failed to fulfil my mother’s last wish.
However, me being a poor man cannot invite such huge number of Brahmins. Anyway, all of these had come on your invitation and I am trying to fulfil my mother’s last wish in this manner. With all due respects to the King, I beg for pardon for my deeds, if I am wrong.”
Raya analysed that Tenali Raman was attempting to teach his a lesson. He then recalled Thimmarusu’s pleas about the drastically dropping gold reserves in the exchequer.
Appreciating the presence of mind and loyalty, Raya immediately stopped the programme.
Tenali Raman And the Two Thieves
It was the practice of King Sri Krishna Deva Raya to visit the jails once a while and review the living standards of the convicted. During one of his visits, two of the jail inmates pleaded for cutting down their punishment period.
They explained that theft was one of the 64 arts in the epics and Vedas and started defining the art of stealing. However, they argued that they would shed the lifestyle and shift for one or the other profession to eke out their living. Raya thought for a moment brushing his moustache royally.
“It’s alright thieves. First let me know about your expertise in the art and then decide. You both have to burgle at Tenali Raman’s house and return. If you emerge successful, then you will be set free immediately” Raya ordered them. “Hey you both listen. You should not deliver any physical blows to the households, take care” he added one condition.
The same night they were ‘officially’ let out for robbing Tenali Raman’s residence. Tenali Raman was nurturing a beautiful backyard garden fondly. The thieves’ duo crossed over the backyard compound wall and took shelter in the bean bushes to watch the surroundings first.
Tenali Raman was not just another ordinary man in the crowd. He spotted the duo hiding in the bushes. He called his wife loudly, “My dear wife! Come here fast. The whole town is on fire with the news about some convicts jumping jail and are said to be at large well within the town. We should immediately protect all our jewellery and other valuables…” watching carefully around the bushes, increasing the pitch “…bring that bundle with all our gold and jewellery.”
A minute later, Tenali Raman and his wife with great effort brought a heavy bundle into the backyard and dropped it into the well. Dhhhhhhhhhhhabbbb….spppppplsh sounds of a heavy weight dropping into the water in the well echoed for few seconds. The thieves looked at each other with sparkles in their eyes.
They never thought it would be so easy to rob Tenali Raman. Meanwhile, the couple went inside the house and closed the door. After sometime, snores were heard from the bedroom of the house. Slowly the thieves drew themselves out of the bushes, taking care they do not make any noise and went close to the well. While one of them stood guard, the other one slipped into the well. In a minute, the thief came out of the well and discussed with the other that there is much water in the well. The jewellery bundle cannot be taken out as it is. It would be better if some water was drawn out to snatch away the bundle, they decided.
Immediately they started drawing water from the well one after the other bucket. Water started flowing continuously in the backyard spreading all the ways. In the shade of trees and darkness, Tenali Raman covering his head with a shawl took one farm tool and started guiding the water to the plants and trees in the yard. As it was too dark and the thieves were concentrating on drawing the water alone, they did not notice Tenali Raman doing this.
After drawing water from the well for three to four hours continuously, the thieves were tired. One of them again went into the well and came back, “You, come I need help to bring the bundle out, it is too heavy.” Both of them slipped into the well together again. With great effort both of them brought the bundle out and fell on the ground like logs of woods after opening it.
To their dismay, it was not a bundle of jewellery but a bundle of small boulders and rocks. They never understood until then that Tenali Raman hid his precious items somewhere in the house and dropped this into the well.
Tenali Raman called them, “Hey dear thieves! Please draw few more buckets of water from the well. Only two of the plants are to be watered. Please hurry up it is close to dawn. Kindly help me quick and little more” like sprinkling chillies on the wounds of burglars.
Both of them were stunned on hearing Tenali Raman’s voice. They told each other, “Run! It is Tenali Raman!” and sped away crossing the wall with all the tired bodies.
The so-called argument of the thieves about the art of stealing and their expertise did not work on Tenali Raman at least.
Tenali Rama – Tenali’s Trick And Robbers
Tenali Rama – Mothertongue Of The Wise Man
Tenali Rama – The Colour Of Diamonds
Tenali Rama – The Tail Of A Dog