Tenali Ramakrishna also known as Panditudu Ramakrishna was a poet, scholar, thinker and a Special Advisor in the court of Sri Krishnadevaraya. He was a Telugu poet who hailed from what is now the Andhra Pradesh region, generally known for his wit and humour. He was one of the Ashtadiggajas or the eight poets at the court of Krishnadevaraya, the Vijayanagara emperor. When he was a child his father was led to death. So, to overcome the depression that Rama faced, his mother Lakshamma took him to Vijayanagara where he was a advisor and 8th scholar at Krishnadevaraya’s court (1509–1530).
Tenali Ramakrishna was also a great scholar of several languages that included Kannada, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi and Tamil. He was advisor in court of Krishnadevaraya.
Tenali Ramalingacharyulu was born in a Telugu-speaking Niyogi Hindu Brahmin family as Garlapati Ramakrishna, in a village called Thumuluru during the early part of the sixteenth century while it is widely believed that he was born in Tenali. His father was Garlapati Ramayya, who served as a priest in the Ramalingesvara Swami temple in Tenali.
Ramayya died when Ramakrishna was young. His mother Lakshamma returned to her native place Tenali to live with her brother. Ramakrishna grew up in his uncle's town and so came to be known as Tenali Ramakrishna.
Tenali Ramakrishna did not receive any formal education during his childhood, but became a great scholar, due to his thirst for knowledge. As per a well-known tale, the Vaishnava (devotees of Vishnu) scholars rejected to accept him as a disciple, as he was a Shaiva. Later while roaming aimlessly, he met a sage, who advised him to worship the goddess Kali. He worshipped and appeased the goddess with his devotion. Kali appeared before him and admired his sense of humor and blessed him that one day, he would be acclaimed as a great poet in the court of King Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara.
Later, he joined the famous troupe of 'Mela'. When the troupe came to Vijayanagara to perform in front of the king, Ramakrishna's performance caught the eye of the King and other people. He shared his life story with Krishnadevaraya, who granted him the post of the comic poet in the court, completing the Ashtadiggajas (The eight scholars) group. Ramakrishna attained fame as a great jester poet. He was also known as a Special Advisor in the Court of Sri Krishnadevaraya. Royal Priest Lakshmi Kumar Tathacharya was jealous of him. He made many plans to defeat Tenali Rama but he did not get any success.
After the Death of King Krishnadevaraya in 1530, he did not further continue in the court and returned to the Tenali. Just a few years later he died from a snakebite. The records also state that Ramakrishna was instrumental in protecting the King Krishnadevaraya many times, coming to his rescue in critical situations. A popular story narrates how Ramakrishna protected Vijayanagara from the Delhi Sultanate by his timely wit and strategy.
Tenali Rama was noted for his brilliance and wit. Tenali Ramakrishna's great work Panduranga Mahatmyam is a Kāvya of high merit, remarkable for its sonorous dignity of phrasing, and is counted as one of the Pañcha Mahā Kāviyas (the Five Great Kavyas) of Telugu literature. It contains a legendary account of a shrine of Vishnu as Panduranga, at Pandharpur consecrated by the ministration of Saint Pandarika. A brahmin named Nigama Sharma, who wasted his life in dissipation and debauchery, breathed his last in Pandharpur. A controversy ensures between servants of Yama and servants of Vishnu. The former were anxious to carry him to hell as he lived a wicked life and the latter claimed him for heaven, as he died in that sacred place. Indeed, the verdict is in favour of the servants of Vishnu. Tenali took the theme for Panduranga Mahatmyam from the Skanda Purana and enhanced it with many stories about the devotees of Panduranga. An imaginary character named 'Nigama Sarma Akka' was created by Tenali Ramakrishna and he built a story around her without giving her a name. He also composed many extempore poems called 'Chatuvu'.
Tenali Ramakrishna attained the status of a folk hero when he was the court poet of Krishnadevaraya, but at the same time, he composed serious works on religion. Three of his narrative poems are available today. His first poem, Udbhataradhya Charitamu about the Shaiva teacher Udbhata which is based on Palakuriki Somanatha's Basava Puranam. Udbhataradhya Charitamu also deals with the sanctity of Varanasi. Because of Tenali Ramakrishna's affinity towards Shaivite religion, he was also known as Tenali Ramalinga Kavi. However, he had great devotion for Vaishnavism as well which is reflected in his work Panduranga Mahatyam .
Tenali was called a vikata kavi (a palindrome in Telugu script) means clown-jester-poet. He was also entitled by "Kumara Bharathi", for his works.
In popular culture
- The most popular stories about the lifestyle, combination, and coordination of Rayalu and Ramalinga spread the message of intellect, time tuning, and strategic stroking besides lively wit and humour.
- Tenali Ramakrishna is a 1956 Telugu film directed by B. S. Ranga. This film was also made in Tamil and is named as Tenali Raman. N. T. Rama Rao appeared as Sri Krishnadevaraya in both films where Tenali Ramakrishna is played by A. Nageswara Rao in Telugu and Tenali Raman is played by Sivaji Ganesan in Tamil.
- Hasyaratna Ramakrishna is a 1982 Kannada film directed by B. S. Ranga. The film stars Anant Nag and Aarathi in the lead roles. In the film, Anant Nag plays the role of a poet, Ramakrishna.
- Tenali Rama, a 1990 Hindi TV series aired in Doordarshan made by T.S. Nagabharana in which Vijay Kashyap played the lead role. It was based on short-stories by Kamala Laxman.
- The Adventures of Tenali Raman, an animated series by Cartoon Network (India) in 2003.
- Tenaliraman is 2014 Tamil film featuring Vadivelu as Tenali Raman as well as Krishna Devaraya. The film was based on the comic reliefs of Tenali Raman.
- Rajguru Aur Tenaliram is an animated series which was aired on Star Utsav now available on YouTube by FUNGAMATV. The Animated series is based on the comic tussle between Rajguru and Court Jester Tenali Rama.
- Tenali Rama, is a TV series presently being aired on SAB TV, with Krishna Bharadwaj playing the titular role.
- Rao (1989), Indian Heritage and Culture, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, ISBN 8120709306
- Goyal (2015), FIX YOUR PROBLEMS - THE TENALI RAMAN WAY (COLLECTER'S EDITION), V&S Publishers, ISBN 9352150740