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Finding out the mother tongue- A Tenali Rama Story

In earlier stories of Tenali Ramakrishna we have seen how quick-witted Tenali Ramakrishna was and how he brought pride to the Emperor Krishnadevaraya time and again.

Every time Tenali Rama solved an issue/puzzle, his knowledge and fame spread far and wide. After all he had taken a boon from Goddess Kali to get both money and knowledge in equal measures!!

Once a person came visiting from one of the neighbouring kingdoms. He was a middle aged person and by his facial features, no one could make out which state he belonged to. As was the protocol, the man attended the Durbar of the Emperor with the gifts given by his king as a mark of respect.

The Emperor welcomed the visitor in chaste Telugu and enquired about his native.

The man smiled and replied in equally chaste Telugu, and said “My native and mother tongue is what the people of your court have to find out. I have mastered many languages but you will have to find out what is my mother tongue”.

The Emperor did not think it was a difficult job and called the courtiers who had different mother tongues to come and talk to the man. There was a question in Bengali, one in Tamil, one in Malayalam, one in Urdu, one in Odisha and one in even Kashmiri but the man answered all the questions in different languages with great ease. All the people who asked the questions and Tenali Rama who was watching were stumped. The accent and the intonation of all the languages spoken by the man were perfect.

“Well,” said the man addressing Emperor Krishnadevaraya, “I shall give your men a day’s time and challenge them to find out my mother tongue!”

The Emperor could not refuse the challenge.

Though he had agreed, the emperor was worried whether anyone could do this difficult task.

Tenali could sense the worry of the emperor. After the court has dispersed, Tenali met the Emperor.

“If you permit me your highness,” he said with great humility, “I shall try my best and try to find out the language of this man”

The emperor looked at him with gratitude and wished him luck.

Tenali Rama made enquiries as to where the man was staying.

That night, the man was tired after the long journey he had undertaken and after partaking the wonderful dinner he was provided at the place of his stay, he was so sleepy and went off to bed.

It was about two early in the morning. It was the new moon day and it was pitch dark outside. In those days, there was no electric lamps and lights with oil wicks were lit in houses. A small lamp was glowing in the room where the man was sleeping.

Suddenly, the light was blown off as if blown by a person. Then… a creature tiptoed near the man. The creature looked so devilish with a long black gown and its face was covered by a mask. The creature’s nails were long and it was moving near to the man who was sleeping.

Slowly the man felt something creeping under his feet.

“Hmph…” he said and withdrew his legs into his blanket and he turned to one side.

After a while, the man felt something tickling his ear. The man waved his hand near his ear and mumbled something.

He turned and lay flat his face facing upwards.

Then the creature slowly moved and kept its hand on the man’s throat and made a terrifying sound. The next moment the man opened his eyes, saw the creature. He shouted something, jumped off from the bed and scurried under the cot trembling. The creature was seen jumping out of the window of the room and the soon the guards who were outside jumped in through the windows and immediately a lamp was lit.

They called for the man and slowly he came trembling from under the cot. The creature had vanished and the man believed he had a nightmarish dream and requested the lamp to be lit and a guard to sleep in his room.

The next day, he came to the court without showing any sign of having had a nightmare that night. He was still eager to find out whether anyone had found his mother tongue. The hall was full and the Emperor looked at Tenali. Tenali came up, bowed to the emperor and the audience, looked at the man and said with confidence, “This man’s mother tongue is Tamil”. The man’s shock was apparent on his face. The emperor then asked the man, “Is Tenali saying the truth?”

The man nodded in affirmative and asked Tenali how he had found out the mother tongue.

Tenali looked at him and said “Sir, please share with this audience what happened yesterday night!” The man was even more shocked, but narrated the whole episode to the crowd.

“Well,” said Tenali Rama. “Do you remember what you shouted when the creature kept its hand on your throat?”

The man hung his head in shame that he had been outwitted.

Tenali Rama continued looking at the crowd. “Dear people,” he said, “I was the one who went like a devilish creature to frighten him. The moment he saw my gory face in the dark night, he yelled, ‘Amma amma, pei… pe…i. Kappaathunga… Kappaathunga…’ (Means mother… mother… ghost…ghost…save me  …save me…) and scurried under his bed. A person learns his mother tongue first before learning other languages. So when he or she is in distress, it is the mother tongue they use and not the languages learnt later and that is how I found out what this person’s  mother tongue is “

The emperor, the people and the man were equally surprised at this revelation. They were surprised at the sharp mind of Tenali Rama.

The emperor as usual gifted him with lot of gifts and was very happy that the challenge was overcome all went home happy.


The Story of Manickavasagar


Tirukurippu Thonda Nayanar


  1. Ram Mohan Narasimhan

    Very nice story. Something similar was adapted in the movie ‘Naan Avanillai’ played by Gemini Ganesan, when the cops use torture techniques to establish his mother tongue!! The story shows that one loses his mask when in sublime joy or extreme distress and reveals his true self.

  2. Usha Chandramouli

    Enjoyed reading the story. Intelligent Tenali never ceases to amaze me. Thanks Vidhyaa.

  3. iyobosa festus ehiorobo

    Beautiful narrative; can we now define a man’s mother tongue as that which he speaks when in distress? Cheers!

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