Clown, jester, poet…Tenali Rama, minister in the court of the ruler of Vijaynagar, Krishnadeva Rai (reign: 1509-30), was a lot of things. 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.
It was well known in the town of Vijaynagar that anyone unfortunate enough to look at a man called Ramaya first thing in the morning, would not be able to have food that day. That was why no one in Vijaynagar liked encountering Ramaya in the morning, if they could help it.
King Krishnadeva Rai, too, came to know of this and wanted to try it out on himself.
He called Ramaya to the palace and made him stay the night in a room adjacent to his bedchamber. The next morning, the first thing he did after waking up, was to take a look at Ramaya.
After finishing a few important duties in the durbar or court, the king went to the dining hall to eat. The food arrived piping hot. The king had hardly picked up the first morsel when he caught sight of a fly in the food. He left the table in disgust. And when the food was prepared for him the second time, he found that he had lost his appetite.
King Krishnadeva Rai could not eat anything at all that day, as a result.
The king was convinced that Ramaya was really jinxed. An angry king ordered that Ramaya be hanged.
In those days the king’s word was law. The soldiers had no option but to take Ramaya to the gallows. While on their way to the gallows, they met Tenali Rama. He heard the story from the condemned man and then whispered something in Ramaya’s ears. Ramaya nodded before being whisked away.
When the soldiers asked Ramaya about his last wish, he told them he wanted to convey a message to the king. He also requested that he be hanged only after hearing of the king’s response.
“Tell the king while it may be true that anyone who sees my face first thing in the morning does not get anything to eat that day, it’s also true that if anyone sees the king’s face first thing in the morning, as I did, he has to lose his life. So who’s the greater jinx – the king or I?” said Ramaya.
On hearing the message, the king was stunned. Then he felt ashamed. He ordered the execution to be stopped, called Ramaya over and offered him gifts. He also asked Ramaya not to say anything about the incident to the public. He was sure that the people of Vijaynagar wouldn’t take well to the idea of having a jinxed person for a ruler.