(an Indian folktale)
Once upon a time in the town of Tenali, there lived a Brahmin boy named Raman. Tenali Raman knew from the start that he would have to move to the large city of Vijaynagar if he wanted to make something of himself. And so he dreamed of that day.
One day the Rajguru of the city of Vijaynagar visited Tenali to go to the temple of Kali. When Raman saw the Rajguru, he bowed before him. “Please sir, I would like to meet the Emperor one day. Would you introduce me?”
The Rajguru was not paying much attention to the little boy. “Of course,” he said absentmindedly.
On the night of the new moon, Raman once again visited the temple of Kali to pray when suddenly the goddess appeared before him, waving her eight arms, bowing all 108 of her heads. When Raman saw this he burst out laughing.
“Why do you laugh?” the goddess asked angrily.
Raman could see that she was furious, and so he thought fast. “Goddess, I was just thinking of the day I had a cold and my nose was running, and I had so much trouble with just one nose and two hands, I thought how funny it must be for you.”
Kali could not help herself; she laughed at the thought. And so she forgave the boy for insulting her, and then she held out two bowls.
“In this bowl there is the sweet milk of wealth,” Kali told Raman. “And in this other hand is the silver bowl with the sour curds of knowledge and learning. Which bowl do you wish to drink?”
Raman leaned toward the bowls, pretending to smell each one, and then he swallowed the contents of both.
“What have you done?” the goddess cried.
“What is the use of being a scholar without wealth?” Raman asked. “And what would be the purpose of having riches without intelligence? I beg your forgiveness if I have made a mistake.”
Kali was pleased with Raman’s honesty and wisdom, and so she blessed him. “You will face many problems,” she said, “but you will also receive and offer many gifts.”
Soon after this, Raman moved to Vijaynagar and went to see the Rajguru. “I’m here,” he said, “and wish to meet the emperor, Krishna Deva Raya, just as you promised.”
Rajguru shook his head and said, “I have never seen you before. Go away.”
But Raman was determined, and the next morning he went to the river where Rajguru took his morning bath, and when the Rajguru stepped out of the water, Raman jumped upon his back and said, “Carry me.”
The Rajguru was furious, but no matter how he tried, he could not shake the young man loose; he had no choice but to walk with the young man on his back, and when people saw this amazing sight, they quickly reported the news to the emperor.
The emperor flew into a royal rage and immediately climbed into his chariot and rode toward the river. “I’ll punish this bold fellow,” he cried, but when Raman saw the royal carriage coming near, he leapt back to the ground, and he lifted the priest onto his own shoulders.
The emperor approached, and when he saw the priest riding on Raman’s shoulders, he was impressed with the young man’s strength and generosity. He turned to his servants and said, “Invite this young man to the palace to receive my thanks.”
So began the days of Tenali Raman’s life in the palace.
In those days the emperor regularly visited the jails. One day two of the prisoners begged him to set them free. “Our theft was artful, one of the 64 arts,” they argued, “but we will give up our ways and find a new profession if you set us free.”
“I will test your skills,” the emperor said, “and then I shall make my decision. Go to Raman’s house and steal his jewels. If you are successful, I will set you free, but make sure you harm no one.”
That evening as Raman was tending his garden, the two thieves climbed the compound wall and hid in the bushes where they carefully studied their surroundings.
Raman spotted the men, and he knew just what to do. He pretended he did not know they were there, and he called to his wife: “My dear, come fast and hear the news. Two convicts have escaped from jail. We should protect our valuables. Let us put them at the bottom of the well.”
Raman’s wife knew her husband was wise, and so she immediately agreed.
Behind the bushes, the thieves looked with delight at each other. Who would have thought their plan would be this easy? They watched as Raman and his wife lowered a chest to the bottom of the well, and then they waited until they were certain the two had gone to sleep.
Then the thieves hastened to the well, and while one stood guard, the other slipped inside. “There’s too much water,” he said, “We have to empty the well.”
They began to draw water, bucket after bucket, and the yard filled so that Raman’s plants were watered.
When the well was empty, the thieves climbed in together and carried out the chest Raman had dropped inside. Alas, inside they discovered only logs.
Raman was only pretending to sleep, so he called out, “Thieves, please draw another bucket of water; two more plants need tending, and it is close to dawn.”
The horrified thieves began to run, but they did not get far.
Thus the emperor understood that the thieves were no artists at all, and once again Tenali Raman proved his wisdom.