Tenali Raman went to Krishna Deva Raya, the king of Vijayanagar, hoping to receive some gifts. The gift he got was a hundred lashes for approaching the king without an appointment! Raman passed on the ‘gift’ to the two guards who had demanded half of the ‘gift’ he was going to collect. Of course, the two guards did not know that Raman would be rewarded fifty lashes!

The king, however, wanted to punish the Raman for bribing the guards. He ordered the guards to take Raman to the riverfront and cut off his head with a single stroke from their swords.

The guards who had received 50 lashes each had a score to settle with Raman. They were only too happy to be his executors.

They took him to the riverfront and tied him to a tree. Then they started sharpening their swords. An argument arose on who would execute Raman. Raman pointed out the king’s order was that he should be executed by both the guards. The guards agreed, untied Raman and dragged him to the river.

Standing on either side of Raman in the knee-deep water, the guards asked Raman to get ready to be executed. Raman said, “You do your duty. But I have one request. My only desire is to die with the name of Kaali Ma on my lips.”

“All right,” said the guards, “You pray. We’ll wait.”

“You be ready with your swords drawn out. Strike the moment I cry out, ’Jai Kaali Ma’,” requested Raman.

The guards agreed. Raman stood in water, eyes closed. The guards stood on either side of Raman, their swords drawn, ready to strike the moment they heard the cry, ‘Jai Kaali Ma.’

Raman prayed silently with eyes closed for a minute. Then he shouted, ‘Jai Kaali Ma,’ and ducked under the water, even as the guards struck.

There was a clash of swords, and Raman was nowhere to be seen. The guards were astonished. As they looked for him, Raman raised his head above the water.

The guards were relieved to find Raman, and at the same time, annoyed with him. “You cannot fool us this time. Get ready to die. Now.”

Raman raised an objection. “The king’s order was to cut off my head with one stroke which you have already used. For a second strike, you need the king’s permission.”

So, the guards led him back to the palace to await instructions from their king.

Raman was saved for now.

Story: Subba Rao | Illustration: Goutam P Sen

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