There was a famously witty poet named Tenali Ramalinga kavi, who belonged to the first half of the 16th Century AD. He is popularly known as ‘vi ka Ta ka vi’ in Telugu language. The fun of this epithet or title is, it would read the same even when read reverse i.e., from end to beginning, the letters are same and so the meaning of the word too, which actually means ‘a poet of unusual witty verses’. He is also known as Tenali Ramakrishna kavi. He was the son of the couple, Lakkamamba and Ramaya and he was tutored by a teacher named Palagummi Ealeaswarudu. He was the native of a town named Tenali (in Guntur Dist of Andhra Pradesh, India) and he originally belonged to the house with the house-name ‘gaarlapaaTi vaaru’. As he, along with his family, migrated to the areas that were under the reign of Vijayanagar kings seeking livelihood under the patronage of the kings, his family latter came to be known as people belonging to Tenali for easy identification by the locals, which by the way stood with time and became a part of his name, his first name.
The greatness of this poet is he was too shrewd, had such a great sharpness of mind and intelligence that to some of the greatest of his contemporaries who lived under the patronage of the Vijayanagara kings his tackling of situations appeared unthinkable and beyond the ordinary imagination. To support this, there is even a fairy tale like account that is popularly believed by one and all that his out of the ordinary intelligence had in fact been a boon from the Goddess Amba, whom he always thought of as his mentor and protector in all situations.
As popularly believed, he adorned the royal court of the most famous and revered kings of Vijayanagar dynasty, Sri Krishnadevaraya, as one of the eight great poets, but some opine that historical evidence does not support of this view since as per the available evidence his life span was latter to that of the king Krishnadevaraya. In spite of this, he is still thought of as one of the eight great poets who authored great works during the period of reign of Sri Krishnadevaraya, a period known as the golden period for Telugu prabandha poetry.
There are any number of stories that prove his intelligence and poetic acumen that have been passed from one generation to another generation down 16th Century AD. One of such stories gives us an interesting account of an episode wherein a poem which starts with a ‘sound’ ( that denotes a vehicle) instead of a meaningful word had to be invented and told by him to tide over a losing situation and even, in fact, came out as a winner at the end.
The story goes like this –
One day when the royal court of king Sri Krishnadevarayanwas fully assembled with the all the eight great poets and was in full swing, engrossed in a literary discussion, a man named Pragadaraju Narasaraju, who took a lot of pride in his capability of writing poetry with an instrument called ‘ganTam’ (a stylus or a metal pen) on Palmyra leaf, as was the practice those days, at the speed as it is read out and emanated from the mouth of learned poet, comes to the court and challenges to test his capabilities by any of the eight great poets assembled in the king Krishnadevaraya’s court. In the process he talks very proud about his capabilities in that art and even goes to the extent that in case any of the eight poets assembled there could tell a poem that he would not be able to write at the same speed that is read out by the poet, and defeats him, he would altogether leave that art and go. Understandably, some poets try but fail to defeat him. Buoyed by this, Praadaraju Narasaraju looks triumphantly at the king Sri Krishnadevaraya, who by now appears a little worried since he could never digest a defeat either in a war field or literary field. Expectantly, he looks at Tenali Ramakrishna to save from the disastrous situation with his capabilities of extraordinary intelligence and presence of wit.
Knowing well that he would never be able to win from the situation with an ordinary poem, Tenali Ramakrishna, comes up with this extraordinary poem, starting it unusually with a sound that denotes the meaning of a vehicle instead of a regular word, in the process totally confusing the opponent as to the method of writing the sound that denoted the meaning of a word. The poem is this –
ptRvvaTa baabaa; talapai
puvvaTa jaabilli; valva buudaTa; cheadea
buvvaTa; huLuLuk huLuLu
kkavvaTa, talapaMga naTTi harunaku jeajea!
ప్తృవ్వట బాబా; తలపై
పువ్వట జాబిల్లి; వల్వ బూదట; చేదే
బువ్వట; హుళుళుక్ హుళుళు
క్కవ్వట తలపంగ; నట్టి హరునకు జేజే!
PtRvva carries him as his vehicle; on his head
The half-moon is a flower; the ash is his clothing;
Poison his food; everything turns hullulluk hullulluk
If he considers so; many hails to such Lord Hara!
As at the beginning of the poem, there is also in the third line of the poem, another sound that denoted the meaning of ‘coming to a naught or nothingness’. Caught totally off guard and unprepared for this kind of situation, the opponent Pragadaraju Narasaraju could not even start writing the poem; he was even stuck at the beginning word of the poem, let alone thinking of completing it, surpassing the second such hurdle in the third line, by the time Tenali Ramakrishna completed reciting the poem. Pragadaraju Narasaraju humbly accepts defeat and apologizes for his proud talk. However to his relief, the situation thus saved, the king Sri Kishnadevaraya feels greatly happy and elated at the end he honors both of them with presents and rewards –
There ends the story.