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Garlapati Ramakrishnacharyulu, popularly known as Tenali Rama and Vikata Kavi, was a court-poet of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 16th century. He was born in a Telugu viswakarma Brahmin family. He was one of the Ashtadiggajas who belonged to the court of Krishnadevaraya in Vijayanagar. Tenali is the town from where he came and he was referred to in the Hampi court as the man from Tenali and so the name Tenali Ramakrishna stuck subsequently. As the king Krishnadevaraya was a Vaishnavite, it is said that he would have changed his name to Ramakrsihna.
The temple he built for Shiva is still an important temple in Tenali, a very important town of the Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh. The area in Tenali is called Ramaligeswara Peta.
Ramalinga practised poetry and composition along with command on language and grammar. Mingling with a group of minstrels, he learnt the art of spontaneous poetry composing techniques at Tenali. He made himself a perfectionist in Sanskrit and Telugu languages. Gradually, in the natural process of growing up, he was married and was blessed with children. From then onwards, he was compelled to find ways to earn a living and feed his family.
He learnt that Vijaya Nagar ruler Sri Krishnadeva Raya was a revered patron for poetry and poets besides being a scholar in Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit languages on par. Every poet and scholar with some skill in the vast Vijaya Nagar empire was longing for getting into the Bhuvana Vijaya, the royal court of Krishnadeva Raya. Ramalinga headed to Vijaya Nagar with a similar thought and wish in him. Legend has it that he was very lazy as a boy. One day a sage approached him and told him that he should be working and not be lazing under a tree. He told the sage that he had no education,so the sage told him to go to the Kali temple of the village and recite a specific mantra a 100 times. Ramakrishna went to the temple and recited the mantra.It is said that Kali appeared in front of Ramakrishna with a bowl of Milk and a bowl of curd. She told him to pick any 1. The milk would give him all the knowledge in the world and the curd would give him all the wealth he needed. Ramakrishna said that both look tasty but he has to taste each before choosing, so Kali gave him both the bowls. Ramakrishna gorged both the curd and the milk. Kali was furious. However, Ramakrishna explained to Kali that what is one without the other. Kali was impressed by his wit and said that he will become a Vikatakavi, meaning a jesting poet. With his Knowledge he left to Vijaynagara.
First, he approached the royal priest Thathacharya and laid his heart before him, after exhibiting his skills. Thathacharya promised Ramalinga to introduce him to the King Krishnadeva Raya. Satisfied Ramalinga spent many a days in vain, waiting for the opportunity. Ramalinga was vexed and started hunting for alternative ways that would gain entry into the court. He then located Nandi Thimmana, another scholar who had a permanent place in the royal court. Ramalinga approached Thimmana and appeased him with his expertise in spontaneous poetry. Thimmana felicitated Ramalinga by presenting him with a Kashmir Shawl, which was presented to him by King Krishnadeva Raya the previous day for his performance.
The next day, Ramalinga adorning the Kashmiri Shawl on his shoulders walked into the royal court. King Krishnadeva Raya was discussing various issues with the courtiers at that time. Krishnadeva Raya was surprised to see a stranger in the Shawl that was presented to Thimmana couple of days before. A straight question came from the King Krishnadeva Raya, “Where did you get this shawl?” With all humbleness Ramalinga replied, “My King! Thimmana could have satisfied you with his proficiency. I was fortunate enough to please that great personality with my poetry. Thimmana, pleased with my expertise…” he continued, “presented me this shawl felicitating me at his residence. I am wearing this to exhibit my competence.”
Sri Krishna Deva Raya was impressed by the way Ramalinga presented himself in the court.
Tenali Rama was famous for his wisdom.
Tenali Ramakrishna's most famous work, Panduranga Mahatyam, is dedicated to god Panduranga (विठोबा in Marathi), a form of Vishnu, whose main temple stands at Pandharpur in Maharashtra. He was known for his wit. After the quick collapse of the Vijayanagara Empire and the death of King Krishnadevaraya, he returned to Tenali and set up a school.
He is said to have died due to a snake-bite.
Scholars treat his famous work Panduranga Mahatyamu as one among the Pancha Kavyas. He has dedicated Panduranga Mahatyam to Viruri Vedadri. This book is about the Pundarika Kshetram on the banks of river Bhaimi and its legend. He also composed Udbhataradhya Charitram on the story of Udbhata, a monk, as well as Ghatikachala Mahatyam about Ghatikachalam, a place of worship for God Narasimha near Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India.
He is noted for brilliance and wit and for mocking other poets and great personalities. He created a celebrated character called Nigama Sarma akka (sister Nigama Sarma) and a story around her without giving her a name. He also had written many Chatuvu (extempore poems). He is not the joker that the comical cartoons make him out to be.
Tenali Ramakrishna is a 1956 bilingual Telugu and Tamil film produced and directed by B. S. Ranga. The Tamil film is titled as Tenali Rama. N.T.Rama Rao appeared as Sri Krishna Deva Raya in both films where Tenali Ramakrishna is played by A. Nageswara Rao and Tenali Rama is played by Sivaji Ganesan and Subhanjaneya Raju.
1990 Doordarshan Serial
But most Indian audience became familiar with Tenali Rama due to the TV serial made by T.S. Nagabharana in which Vijay Kashyap played the lead role. It was based on short-stories by Mrs. Kamala Laxman.
- K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, History of South India, From Prehistoric times to fall of Vijayanagar, 1955, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 2002) ISBN 0-19-560686-8
- Literary activity in Vijayanagara Empire
- Original Tenali Ramakrishna Kavi Stories translated from Halegannada
- Stories of Tenali Rama in Indic and English Languages
- Tenali Ramakrishna