Face-Saving Formula : Tenali Raman Tales

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Krishnadeva Raya, the king of Vijayanagara, had ordered Tenali Raman to not show his face. Raman was waiting for an opportunity to win over the king. (Click here to read the horror stories.)

One morning, Raman was surprised to see a tall, fat man being carried on a chair by four short and stout men. The procession was heading to the palace. “This must be the pahalwan from the north,” thought Raman, who had heard people talking about a strong man from the north.

The pahalwan from the north called on King Krishnadeva Raya. “I’m going around the world to see if I can meet a man stronger than me. I challenge the pahalwans of Vijayanagara to wrestle with me.”

The king fixed a day for the event and asked his pahalwans to get ready to face the challenger from the north.

The pahalwans took one look at the man and their hearts sank. “He is so huge. I don’t think any one of us can grapple with him,” said one pahalwan. “In his hands, we will be like chickens,” said another.

The minister informed the King that the local pahalwans were reluctant to take up the challenge thrown at them by the man from the north.

“Is there no one who can save the honour of Vijayanagara?” exclaimed the king.

One man was ready to save the honour of Vijayanagara. That was Raman.

But the king had ordered him not to show his face!

“You can still help the king,” said Raman’s wife.

The next day, King Krishnadeva Raya was surprised to see a visitor whose face was covered with a black pot.

“Who are you? What’s this nonsense?” shouted the king in anger.

The man replied, “Maharaj, it is me, Raman.”

“Had I not warned you to not show your face again?” yelled the king.

“Maharaj, I’m not showing my face to you. I’ve covered it.”

The king couldn’t help but laugh.

“All right what brought you to the court?” the king asked.

“I want to take on this pahalwan from the north, Maharaj,” said Raman.

The king was delighted to hear this. He ordered all the pahalwans of the kingdom to report to Raman.

On the following day, the pahalwans of Vijayanagara carried Raman on a chair to the arena, where the pahalwan from the north was waiting.

On his arrival, the king signaled that the contest could begin. Tenali Raman stepped forward. “Maharaj, I challenge my opponent to do with eyes open, what I can do with my eyes closed,” said Raman.

The pahalwan from the north thought that it was child’s play to do anything with eyes open that an opponent could do with his eyes closed. He nodded his head.

A chair was brought for Raman where he sat. He closed his eyes and signaled his assistant. The assistant brought a bucketful of sand and splashed it on Raman’s face.

Then Raman wiped his face with a towel and opened his eyes. He bowed to the pahalwan from the north and said, “Your turn.”

The challenger was shell-shocked. An attendant brought another bucketful of sand and took position. The pahalwan trembled at the thought of all the sand that would get into his eyes if he were to keep his eyes open when the sand was thrown at his face. The very thought scared him.

“I concede defeat, Maharaj,” he said meekly and bowed to Raman.

The king gave Raman a handsome reward. The assembled people waved their hands and clapped.

The pahalwans of Vijayanagara hoisted Raman on their shoulders and carried him in a procession to his house.

Story: Subba Rao | Illustration: Goutam P Sen

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