Tenali Rama, one of the three superstar jesters of India, is said to have earned his position as jester by making King Krsnadevaraya laugh. According to one story, he contrived for the king’s guru to carry him around on his shoulders within sight of the king. Outraged at the humiliation of his holy man, the king sent some guards out to beat the man riding on the guru’s shoulders. Tenali Rama, smelling impending danger, jumped down and begged forgiveness of the guru, insisting that to make amends he should carry the guru on his own shoulders. The guru agreed and when the guards arrived, was duly beaten.
Tenali Rama was escorted to the king who was sufficiently amused by the account of what had happened to make Tenali Rama his court jester.
The jester exists on a spectrum at one end of which is the trickster – some jesters veer closer to tricksterism than others, and particularly among those I refer to as ‘folk fools’ – usually legendary, they become repositories for outrageous stories of slippery behaviour. Tenali Rama is a prime example.
Source: Lee Siegel, Laughing Matters: Comic Tradition in India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 322
Image credit: Front cover, The Best of Tenali Rama