A Lesson in turning black into white
A tenali rama story
Like every rich man, His Majesty was utterly conscious about his youthful looks, during public appearances. ( Indeed it was a stupendous task to maintain it when one is past his fifties).. The role played by the royal barber in furthering this cause was not at all insignificant. Every day he had to spend not less than an hour in the royal ante-room in the Royal Company, putting to best use all the razors, scissors, shampoos and cosmetics.
The purpose was two-fold. The Royal countenance should be eminently presentable to the court. Secondly, the issue concerned the personal well-being of the barber.
His skill in wielding the razors and scissors was more than adequate and if at all there was any slight shortcoming, the same would have been compensated by the gift of the gab that naturally came to the barber. On the whole, the artistic efforts of the barber kept the Royal countenance in bright shape and he was in the good books of His Royal Majesty.
It so happened that when the barber presented himself for duty one fine morning, the Royal sleep of sweet dreams was not yet concluded although the Sun was not tactful enough not to raise and announce that at least one hour has gone ahead in the day.
Out of respect and partly out of fear, the barber did not venture to stop the Royal snore..
But he has to perform his barborial duties. Duty came first and all other things second..
With the stealthy gait that can come only to a cat or a barber, the specialist stole into the Royal bedroom armed with all his weapons and paraphernalia and noiselessly and without disturbing the Regal sleep, a supreme artistic performance of cutting, shaving, dyeing and manicuring was performed to perfection..
The artist waited outside for his subject of act to wake up and see and feel the results.
Even the king could not sleep and dream for ever. The sun rose up in the firmament and the heat of the day started seeping
into the royal bedchamber. The king woke up and tried to scratch his chin. Instead of the day-long white stub, he could feel a very pleasant softness on his chin. He stood up and looked up in the mirror, and he found a very trim face in the reflection.. Cleanly shaven chin, with dyed and greased moustache..
His happiness knew no bounds.
The Royal eyes fell on the barber crouching outside. The sudden realization of the work of art by the barber and sincere appreciation for such dedicated labour oozed out like a cool spring from the Royal heart.
He called the barber and showered him with praises.
“ Ask whatever you want, and it shall be granted” came the Royal statement.
The barber was, in fact, just waiting for such a day to come.
Although he could not deny the fact that he was being fed and looked after very well, he never did have the social status enjoyed by the priests and the soldiers. And despite being an expert in wielding arms like the razor and the scissors, he did not have the bravery to become a soldier. So, his supreme desire in life was to become a Brahmin. He had seen Priests and gurus moving around in gusto in the Royal court, doing nothing other than arguing with one another and vying with each other in partaking in feasts at the Royal Palace and the places of the nobles, and they were even being paid for in cash and kind for just doing the favour of depleting the contents of the kitchens of the rich households.
So, without batting an eyelid, the barber made the request that he wanted to become a Brahmin.
The king could find nothing much amiss in such a request. When pleased, the Royal mind is ever prepared to grant any bounties to anyone he likes.
The presiding priest of the Palace and a council of learned Brahmins were summoned, and although they could not fully digest the idea of a barber being inducted into their midst as a practicing official, they did not have the guts to say anything that would displease the king. In addition, the priests could foresee a lot of financial and gastronomical benefits in conducting a huge yajna for the conversion of the barber to the fold of Brahmins..
A very elaborate ritual, involving a lot of presents and feasts to the Brahmins was prescribed. It was decided that the barber would be bathed in thousand pitchers of water from Ganges, Kaveri and Godavari on a day of auspicious muhurtam and then the priest would adorn him with the holy thread and declare him to be a Brahmin..
The court jester Tenali Rama also heard about this. He knew very well that the priests would go to any extent to please the king and extort presents and favours.. He also knew that the king was very adamant once his mind was set on doing something and any amount of good advice would be of no avail. He was acutely conscious of the fact that the king was committing an utterly foolish act which would make him look like an idiot in the eyes of his own subjects as also in the circle of kings and nobles of the period.
Nothing sensible could be done to drive home some good sense in the mind of the king.
The ceremony for conversion of the royal barber into brahminhood was announced with a lot of pomp and publicity. A huge shamiana was erected, and kunds(sacrificial fireplaces) were erected for havans. The entire Royal court was summoned to witness the proceedings.. Dances and pageants were arranged.
The auspicious day came. The barber was summoned to the presences of the Royal priests, was given ablution and was adorned in rich dresses. The anointing ceremony was to start. Nadaswararam was being played.
Meanwhile, Rama, had also his own small function arranged. He had got another shamiana erected in a place not far off from the site where the conversion ceremony of the royal barber was being consecrated. There were a few priests availabe for Rama also ( priests would go anywhere, provided they were offered sufficient presents and food) and some pots of water were also arranged. A street dog of black skin was tied to a post erected in the middle of the shamiana. When the muhurtam was starting at the Royal Shamiana, Rama started pouring water from one pot after another on the body of the black dog to the accompaniment of chanting of mantras by the priests, and started rubbing and scratching on the body of the dog with a broken piece of coconut shell with very rough edge. As the rubbing progressed, the dog was bleeding and was yelping in pain. And as and when more water was poured and the body was rubbed deeper, the agony became impossible for the dog, and it was howling in a near death stupour. The moaning of the dog became so loud that the Royal assemblage could hear it even above the music of nadaswaram.
The king was disturbed and royal emissaries came to enquire about the cause of disturbance. Rama was accused of tormenting a poor animal.
However, he pleaded, “ Tell His Majesty that I am performing a sacred yajna.. My dog is having black skin. As is known to all, black is an inauspicious colour. So I wanted to turn the colour of the dog to white. So I am bathing the dog in holy waters and rubbing its back with due ritualisti ceremonies. I am confident that after a few baths, and sufficient number of scrubs, the dog’s colour will change to white”
The king’s emissaries laughed hilariously.
They taunted.. “ What a fool you are, Ramalinga.. How can you change the colour of the dog by washing it and rubbing and scratching it with coconut shells? The colour will never change. The dog may either die of bleeding or it can turn violent and bite you..We thought you were a very wise man!”
Rama replied. “ Maybe you are right. I was also thinking like that till a few days ago. But then His Majesty in His superior wisdom has decided that he could make his barber into a Brahmin by bathing him with thousand pots of water. Therefore I was also confident that I could achieve the transformation of my pet dog”
The news reached the king.. And sense dawned upon the Royal brain, albeit belatedly.