Indeed very hot stuff…a tenali rama story.
From the age of bows and arrows to the modern age of scud missiles internet and hot lines, the earth is being ruled by some person, or group of persons .. and with power comes self-doubts and superstitions.. funnily indeed, such rulers invariably have chamchas and con-men surrounding them .. Such con-men were present always in the history of mankind in various types, even though their castes, creeds and hues and dress codes varied.. But the basic agenda of such fellows, that is, extorting money in some way or other, nurturing and playing on the superstitions and credulity -- be it of a gullible king or ruler, or of the man on the street--remained the same, and if at all, the avariciousness grew in direct proportion to the gullible nature of the victim. In the matter of exploitation , there is hardly any difference between those wearing gowns and rosaries, those sporting henna coloured beards, or those growing tufts, wearing threads, tilaks and Panchakacchams.
The medieval India was a fertile slice of land for such purveyors of faith…
In the Kingdom of Vijayanagaram, where KrishnaDeva Raya ruled with fair justice in the company of his astute minister and court jester Tenali Rama, the influence of the Royal Priest and his large retinue of satellite priests was very apparent.. There were many poojas and rituals organized, mostly for reasons invented by the Head priest and affirmed by his genial colleagues. And invariably endorsed by the king..
Large scale expenditure on rituals, feasts and Presents to the priests was the order of the day..
The ultimate victims of the Royal patronage of the priests were the poor taxpayers and the common men, who were virtually struggling to find a good meal a day and decent clothes to wear.
The Head Priest was gifted with the art of flattery coupled with the capacity of presenting colourful tales of huge sins that could befall the Royalty on a day to day basis. And invariably, the priest had very easy solutions for expiation from any such sin.. According to him, and according to what he presented as quotes from Shastras, every sin under the sun could be remedied and expiation found if the Gods walking on the land, the Brahmins, especially those who were priests, were fed and offered costly presents.
It was a typical mid day of extreme Andhra heat, and the King Raya was feeling the temperature…they did not have centrally air-conditioned palaces those days.. and naturally, his mood was not upbeat. A feeling of sadness and despondency was engulfing him… And the King had in his company the main Purohita of the kingdom, as usual discussing matters of religion.
The shrewd Brahmin could not fail to notice the bottom-swing of the Royal mood, and the sad countenance of the ruler appeared like a blank cheque to the mind of the wily priest..
He asked, “ If it is not out of place my Sir, I cannot refrain from making the remark that the Royal countenance is slightly dark with anxiety and care today.. May I know the reason for that, if I am permitted to do so?”
The king did not have any particular worry, but the question of the priest and its timing triggered sad thought in his mind.. He said, “ Purohitji, I was just thinking of my beloved mother, the queen, who passed away last year.. I am sure she passed away at a very ripe age, and I am equally satisfied that I made her life very comfortable as long as she was alive.. I engaged the best doctors and physicians of the time for treatment of her illness. But fate had the last laugh. She was taken away from me.. My pain on account of her demise has been reduced over time and the philosophic feeling that everyone has to die some day.. But an unbearable stab on my heart as if made by a dagger pains me for ever… My dear mother, while she was about to breath her last, was asking form some ripe mangoes… In fact I had taken immediate steps to bring the fruits to her bedside, but even in spite of the royal speed in which things were done, the poor lady’s life had left her by the time we could bring the mangoes.. So my mother died without getting her last wish of eating mango fulfilled.. How can I ever expiate for this, and satisfy the departed soul of my mother?
The priest who was listening to this became all sympathy and concern… He exclaimed in a concerned voice, “ My master, it is indeed very dangerous to incur the anger of the departed spirits.. It is all the more so when the departed spirit is a woman…But my Sir, Our saints and savants have prescribed expiation for any type of displeasure or manes and other ill omens..”
Indeed with grave concentration, he consulted the Panchangam and some bundles of palm-leaves he carried… His face remained grave and matter of fact for a long time. Finally he brightened up.. “My dear Sir, I see a bright solution.. As you are well aware, the messages and presents to the souls and spirits living in the pithrulokam are transmitted through the good offices of learned Brahmins… The presents and poojas offered to the Brahmins and the sumptuous feasts given to them in the name of the departed souls would definitely be received by the pithrus in their world.. The Shastras are very clear about this… The royal mother could not get her mango before she died. Her spirit, which is now a very huge apparition is waiting with great expectation that the mango would come to her.. So, since now her size is very huge, the best way to provide her with mangos would be to make large mangoes in gold, at least one hundred and eight in number, and giving them as presents to the Brahmins who are the walking replicas of God on earth…Of course, this should be accompanied by a feast and proper Dakshina”
The King, whose treasury was flush with money, although it represented the tax paid by the poor people, did not think twice before approving of making such huge financial commitment..
On a day fixed as auspicious by the Purohita, one hundred and eight Brahmins were invited, fed and presented with golden mangoes.. The entire kingdom was watching this with dismay, but in helpless silence, and Tenali Rama was also watching this. He thought.. “ It is high time that this swindling is stopped.. The King is being defrauded and the poor people suffer.”
So Tenali Rama made a visit to the house of the Royal Purohita.. After exchanging pleasantries, Rama started to talk to the priest in apparent earnestness. “ Swamin, I saw you conducting ceremonies to satisfy the desires of the departed Rajamatha.. It was indeed a very great idea.. If learned Brahmins like you and your numerous colleagues do not exist in this world, the departed souls of our forefathers must be suffering great pain and privation in their heavenly abodes… When I learnt that the desire of the Royal Mother could be satisfied in such a wonderful manner, and when I was witness to the ceremony to please her spirit, my admiration for you and the community of priests was elevated to celestial heights. I am all admiration for your learned methods. Sir, I have a personal problem to be solved.. This problem relates to my own departed mother.. The poor soul, she also breathed he last without having her last wish fulfilled. I should seek guidance from you for her temporal relief… May I make request to you and the other learned Brahmins who made the life of the king and his mother purified, to visit my home for a feast and expiatory ceremony on similar lines.?”
The wily priest was jubiliant. He knew that Tenali Rama was quite rich by now as he was receiving large royal patronages The priest fixed the date for the ceremony and promised that he would round up the same set of Brahmins to bless Rama and to bring the satisfaction of the departed soul of Rama’s mother.
Tenali Rama praised the generosity of the king, and the learnedness of the Purohita and requested the Ruler also to make a visit to his home on the appointed day.. The king consented readily.
The day of expiation for the Spirtit of Raman’s mother dawned brightly.. The Purohita and the other priests were present in all pomp and jubiliation. The King also graced the occasion.
First, Rama invited the guests to the main hall and requested them to take their comfortable seats.. The King was also present.. Since it was a pithru karyam , the entrance to the hall from the front was ordered to be closed. Then Rama addressed the gathering.. “ Swamins, Namaskarams.. My poor mother died of arthritis and was suffering from great pain on all her joints.. And by the very nature of the ailment she was always shivering.. Her greatest desire during the last days of her life was that heated rods of iron should be placed on the joints of her knee and knuckles.. However, as I was not aware that such treatment could have given relief to her, I failed to fulfill her desires. Now, I shall correct the wrong done to her and bring eternal peace to her departed soul by offering the same heat to you learned Brahmins “
Saying this, he opened the door from the hall leading to the kitchen.. There a huge oven was burning with a dozen iron pikes glowing white-hot.. He entered the kitchen, took out one hot pike by the farther end and approached the head priest with a request to show his knee-joint so that it could be given heat which can be transmitted to Rama’s departed mother.
The priest was dizzy with mortal fear… The logic of Rama was very clear.. If the priests could carry mangoes to the heaven to the departed royal mother through one hundred and eight gold mangos presented to them, then they should be capable of carry the heat too to the departed mother of Tenali Rama.
All the priests were all scampering with loud howls to the closed entrance of the hall to save themselves from being treated with the hot iron rods.. They bolted for their lives.
Rama suddenly stopped the proceedings and addressed King Raya, “ My Lord and Master, I apologize to you for the scene.. I had no other way of convincing the Royal mind that His Majesty was being defrauded by the Purohita and his group.. Neither golden mangos nor the heat can ever affect, please or displease dead persons..”
Needless to say, the Golden mangos were returned silently to the Royal treasury.