The ruler of Vijayanagaram, Krishnadevaraya, most of the time had to contend with the attacks of rulers from other adjoining territories, and acting on the advise of his generals he decided to purchase a large number of horses.. To ensure that such horses were reared and kept in spic condition for any combat, it was decided that they should be kept in the houses of the Royal courtiers who would feed and nurture them and for this there would be an allowance of fifteen silver coins per month.. Tenali Ramakrishna also volunteered to become the guardian of one such horse..
He collected his horse and the silver coins..
The silvercoins, he decided to keep for his domestic expenses.. Essential commodities for human sustenance were scarce and costly and the Royal treasury was mostly empty due to defence expenditure.. Ramakrishna could not digest the situation where people starved and elephants and horses were fed sumptuously..
He led the horse to the dingiest room in his residence, and built a brick wall across the entrance, leaving just a small hole to let in some air.. And daily at about noon, a handful of dried grass was pushed through hole and the horse had to eat that to keep its body and soul together.
A month passed and there was a Royal summons that the courtiers should parade the horses at the Palace stable.. Everyone brought the horse entrusted to his care, with great pomp..
However when Ramakrishna’s turn came, he pleaded that the horse given to him was very disobedient and had refused to present itself at the Royal Palace.. The king was enraged and the Sardar of cavalry, a muslim with a long goatee grey beard which flowed down upto his knees was directed visit Ramakrishna’s house and bring the recalcitrant horse to the Royal presence.. This Sardar prided himself as an expert trainer of horses who could subjugate any troublesome equine..
With pride and pomp the Sardar proceeded to where the horse of Ramakrishna was lodged. It was almost noontime and the ration of handful of dried grass was overdue for the hungry and emaciated horse.
The sardar peeped through the hole to have a look at the miscreant horse, and his long beard flowed in through the hole The poor horse thought that his daily food of dry grass was coming in and without hesitation bit at the protruding beard.. The Sardar pushed the other way in utter pain, but the horse would not let go.. Finally two Royal barbers had to be summoned to cut off the portion of the beard that was still outside the horse’s mouth..
His pride and beard gone, the Sardar demanded that the horse should be brought out of the room.. There everyone saw that the horse which was nothing more that its hide and skeleton..
“You cruel fellow, why have you kept the horse starving for so many days? “ Asked the Sardar..” I am reporting the matter to His Majesty.’
Ramakrishna and his horse were paraded before the King..
“ Your Majesty, Please see how ill-tempered and rowdy this horse is.. Even when it was not given proper food, it had the temerity to bite the beard of your Sardar.. If I had fed him with all the food the fifteen silver coins would fetch, then the fellow would have trampled the Sardar to death.”
This was the explanation of the court jester for the frugal supply of food to the horse.
As aside, there was a murmered remark by Ramakrishna..
" There is no food for the people in the kingdom. However the horses are fed from the Royal Court”..
The King's anger flared up for a moment.. Then realization dawned upon the Royal mind..
The first duty of the King was to feed his subjects.. and not to wage wars..