Tenali Ramakrishna: Life, Career and Advisor

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who is Tenali Ramakrishna

Tenali Ramakrishna is also known as Tenali Rama and Vikata Kavi. He was a poet, scholar and advisor in the court of King Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 16th century. He is famous for his wit, humour and intelligence, which he used to solve complex problems and advise the king on various matters. There are many folklore named as stories of Tenali Rama and Krishnadevaraya which are famous among the youth. But the question remains who is Tenali Ramakrishna? Let’s delve into this poet’s life and learn more information about Tenali Rama.

Who was Tenali Ramakrishna?

Tenali Ramakrishna was a poet and scholar who hailed from a small village in Andhra Pradesh, India.

  • He was born on 22nd September 1479. 
  • His father’s name was Garlapati Ramakrishna who worked as a priest at the Santhavuru’s Ramalingesvara Swami Temple and his mother’s name was Lakshmma.
  • Due to his father’s death at a very young age, he had to shift to Tenali, his maternal uncle’s place.
  • Tenali was not granted education because of his religious practices, but he was adept in several languages like Marathi, Kannada, Hindi and Tamil. 
  • He was known for his sharp intellect keen sense of humour, and ability to solve complex problems with ease.
  • Because of his curiosity, he read many books and became a scholar via homeschooling.
  • Later, he was married to Shardha Devi with whom he had a son named Bhaskar Sharma and a daughter Amruta.
Tenali Rama
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Rise to Prominence

With his linguistic skills, he acquired the position of a poet and worked with the Bhagwat Mela Troupe reciting plays. The troupe conducted several programmes everywhere. 

  • Raja Krishnadevaraya spotted him and when the Mela went to the court to perform a play.
  • Impressed with Tenali and knowing about him, Raja Krishnadevaraya appointed him as a court comedian poet. 
  • He was later also included in the Ashtadiggajas (The Eight Scholars) group. 
  • Tenali slowly also became a confidante of Krishnadevaraya and became a Special Advisor to the king.

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Literary Works of Tenali Rama

Tenali Rama was known for his intelligence and humour and was honoured with the title of  “Kumara Bharathi” for his literary brilliance.

  • Pandurang Mahtmyam – The Panduranga Mahatmyam, was authored by Tenali Ramakrishna. It is highly regarded for its Kavyas and is considered one of the Panch Maha Kavyas (five great Kavyas) of Telugu literature. The text is notable for its impressive phrasing and dignified tone.

The Panduranga Mahatmyam tells the legendary tale of a shrine in Pandharpur, dedicated to Vishnu as Panduranga, and established by Saint Pundarika. After wasting his life in debauchery, a Brahmin named Nigama Sharma dies in Pandharpur. Subsequently, the servants of Yama, the ruler of the underworld, and the servants of Vishnu dispute Nigama Sharma’s afterlife destination. 

The servants of Yama argue that because of his wicked life, he should be sent to hell, whereas the servants of Vishnu claim that as he died in a sacred place, he deserves to go to heaven. Eventually, the verdict is given in favour of the servants of Vishnu. 

Panduranga Mahatmyam is based on the Skanda Purana, and Tenali Ramakrishna embellished it with stories about the devotees of Panduranga. He created an imaginary character named ‘Nigama Sarma Akka’ and wove a story around her without giving her a name. 

  • Additionally, Tenali Ramakrishna composed many extempore poems called ‘Chaatuvu.’
  • Udbhataradhya Charitamu – He was also known for composing serious works on religion during that time. Even today, three of his narrative poems are still in existence. One of his earliest works, Udbhataradhya Charitamu, is about the Shaiva teacher Udbhata and was based on Palakuriki Somanatha’s Basava Puranam. This poem also focuses on the holiness of Varanasi. Due to his inclination towards the Shaivite religion, Tenali Ramakrishna was also referred to as Tenali Ramalinga Kavi.

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What are some famous stories about Tenali Ramakrishna?

Some of the famous stories that our grandmother recited about this quick wit intelligent person are – 

  • The Brinjal Curry Test – In this story, Ramakrishna uses his wit to prove his innocence when accused of stealing a Brinjal curry.
  • The Two Thieves – Ramakrishna outsmarts two thieves who try to rob him by playing a trick on them.
  • The Wealthy Miser – Ramakrishna teaches a miserly man the value of generosity through a clever ruse.

In his later years after, he died a year before Emperor Krishnadevaraya died in 1528. The main reason for his death was a snakebite due to which he was not able to survive the poison. Historical accounts tell how Tenali due to his cunning nature has saved the kingdom of Krishnadevaraya from the Delhi Sultanate. Even the Mughal Emperor Babur considered him a strong ruler of the south and never tried to annex his kingdom.

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