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Tag: scholar

The Name Game

This is yet another story from the Jataka tales.

Long long ago, around 700 BC, Takshashila was a well established university in India. It was one of the biggest with about ten thousand students. It offered studies in all disciplines, ranging from science to philosophy, though its specialization was in medicine. Many greats like Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya and Charaka are said to be products of this university. This university was located near Rawalpindi in present day Pakistan and had international students coming to study there. This university thrived for nearly ten centuries before it was damaged by some invasions in 6th century CE and thereafter abandoned.

There are mentions of this university in the Jataka tales very often. This story is one such instance.

Coming back to the story, in the University of Takshashila, there was a young scholar by name “Deena”. He was a very nice person who was very good in his studies and helpful to everyone , but he had a negative obsession about his name. ‘Deena’ means weak and miserable.

So strong was his obsession that he felt extremely bad when people called out his name. “I have got such a bad name – weak… and miserable… hmmph…” he snorted. “I wonder where my parents got this name from…” he sighed.

Just then somebody was calling him, “Deena, O Deena where are you?” Deena was so irritated hearing his name called out loud.

“I must do something about this name of mine” he said to himself.  The next day, he went to his teacher earlier than usual.

“Come Deena! What brings you here so early?” asked the Guru (teacher).

“I have a request Guruji” said Deena. “I do not like this name of mine. It hurts me a lot when people call me ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ and so I want to change my name.” He looked crestfallen.

The teacher smiled and patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Deena, I think you are too obsessed about this” said he. “The name is only an identity, Deena. I don’t think you should be worried so much about this”

But Deena did not seem convinced. “No Guruji” he said. “I want you to please give me a new name. Kindly give me a good name. Please…”

The teacher thought for a while. “I will give you a new name, but you will have to do something before that. Will you?” , he asked.

“Sure, Guruji” said an overjoyed Deena.

“Then, do one thing. Go on a trip to the nearby city for a few days and observe any incident which happens there and also find out the names of the people involved. You can go and stay in a public guest house. Visit markets and other residential areas and observe. Then after you come back, you can decide on changing your name” said the teacher.

Deena agreed. In those days there were public guest houses run by the kings where people could go and stay for free. So it was not difficult for Deena.

The next day Deena left for the city by walk. Upon reaching the city, he saw a procession with a dead body being carried for cremation. The pall bearers were going in the front and the relatives of the dead person were walking behind.

Deena remembered his teacher’s words and slowly walked up to a relative of the dead person and asked him “What is the name of the person who has passed away?”

“Amar Babu” said the relative and walked ahead with the crowd.

“Amar Babu means ‘immortal person’” thought Deena, “but he is dead??”

He reached a choultry (public rest house) and stayed the night there and was thinking about this the whole night.

The next day morning he decided to visit a residential area, and while walking on a street, he saw a woman outside her house. She was speaking angrily to another woman who appeared to be her maid-servant.

“If you are not doing your job well, I will get someone else to work for me. Get lost from here” the woman yelled, and gave the maid-servant a beating with a cane.

The maid-servant was pleading with tears in her eyes, “I will do better tomorrow Mataji (mother). Please do not stop me from service. I have three mouths to feed at home and they will starve to death if you fire me.”

The lady’s neighbours looked on helplessly. They seemed visibly disgusted at this incident. As Deena passed by them, one of them commented to another, “See how our neighbour is beating her maid-servant Lakshmi. She is Karuna only by name, but her behavior is so cruel! Don’t know who named her thus!”

After all, Karuna means ‘mercy’ and Lakshmi means ‘wealth’.

Deena was shocked. Cruel ‘Karuna’ and poor ‘Lakshmi’. He thought he had understood the purpose of names now and thought of going back to Takshashila the next day.

As he walked towards the end of the city, he saw a man approaching him. The man asked “Are you going to Takshashila?”

“Yes” replied Deena.

“Well” said the man. “May I come with you? I am also going to Takshashila, but I do not know the way”.

“Of course yes!” said Deena.

They slowly started walking towards the wooded road which was leading to Takshashila.

Deena asked the man, “By the way, what is your name please?”

“Margadarshaka” said the man.

“Margadarshaka means ‘guide’? But you do not know the way to Takshashila and are asking me to guide you??” asked Deena.

The man got terribly upset.

“Are you joking my friend?” said he in an irritated tone. “Do you mean to say if my name is Margadarshaka, I should know all the roads and routes in this country? Are you mad or are you making fun of me huh?”

Deena felt bad. “I am extremely sorry, my friend” he said. He then narrated the tale of his travel to the city, and its purpose. The man looked at Deena and took pity on him.

“Look here Deena” he said. “The name is only an identity for a person to mark who he or she is and does not reflect the owner’s character, understand? Though your name means ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ you are so strong in character, are you not? I hope you understand now.”

“Thank you” said Deena as he went back to the university with a clear mind.

The next day, even before his teacher could ask him, he said, “I am happy with my name Guruji. Thank you for showing me the right path.”

The teacher simply smiled in response.

Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam

Tenali Ramalingam, or Tenali Rama as he was known was the extremely intelligent court jester of the emperor Krishnadevaraya who ruled the Vijayanagara Empire. Not only was he the court jester, but also, he played advisor to the king on many occasions and helped Krishnadevaraya come out of difficult situations and saved the reputation of the kingdom.

This story is about one such incident. Vijayanagara Empire was known for the intelligent and extremely knowledgeable scholars. Once a scholar from Kashi visited Vijayanagara Empire. The emperor as was usual, welcomed the learned man and enquired about the purpose of his visit to his palace. The scholar, who had a look of arrogance said, “Well, your Majesty, I have heard that you have many learned scholars in your kingdom. I would like to have a debate with them on any literary work they choose. It does not matter to me, you see, as to what work is chosen, for, I have read all the literary works that are available, ha.. And, if your men defeat me, I shall surrender all my titles, whereas, if I defeat them, they should become my slaves. Can any of your scholars debate with me?”

The Emperor was confident of his learned men and agreed to the condition and ordered, “Let the debate take place tomorrow”.

However, the arrogance and pomp of the scholar dampened the confidence of the learned men of the court and they feared that they would be easily defeated. They met the emperor and with great apprehension, told him about their reluctance to participate in the debate.

Krishnadevaraya was furious. “Is there nobody to take on this scholar?” he roared in anger. “Is my empire starved of learned men? Is it not a shame to the empire that we do not have even one single person to debate with this scholar?” he seethed with anger.

Tenali Rama who was present watching what had happened, stepped forward. “Your Majesty,” he said humbly. “I will debate with that scholar tomorrow. Do not worry”

The emperor was angrier than before. “Rama, this is not the time to joke about. I am seriously talking about the stake of the kingdom and here you are joking eh?”

Raman said hurriedly, in a firm voice, “I mean what I say your majesty. The only requirement of mine is that these scholars here should come dressed up as my disciples and I shall take care of the rest”. Krishnadevaraya could do nothing and he agreed half-heartedly.

The next day, as the court gathered with the scholar from Kashi present, Raman walked in majestically, his ‘disciples’ in front of him, hailing his praises and ‘titles’. He was wearing a grand silk dhoti and a dazzling turban studded with Gems and had big rings on his fingers and a heavy gold chain around his neck. He carried a bundle wrapped in red silk and held it close to his chest. Even the Emperor was stunned at this show but was not still sure of Raman’s capability.

Raman sat with his disciples on the dais where already the scholar from Kashi was seated. Raman placed the silk bundle in front of him and looked at the emperor for his consent to start the debate. The emperor signalled that the debate could be started.

Raman cleared his throat. “Hmm.. Hmm.. Respected Sir,” he said addressing the scholar from Kashi. “Since you have told that we could debate on a literary work of my choice, I have chosen to debate about “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam.. Will you start the debate or should I?” He stopped to observe the scholar. The scholar had a shock of his life. He had read almost all the literary works of his time but had never even in his dreams heard of this work “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam”. He realised his mistake of having allowed Tenali Rama to choose the work of his choice. His face was filled with panic and he hurriedly looked at the emperor and said very humbly, “Your Majesty, I have read this work about thirty years ago and I seek a day’s time to recall the contents of the work. If you permit, can we debate on this tomorrow?

The emperor was surprised at the scholar’s action. However, he had also not even remotely heard of “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam” and was sort of confused as to how Tenali Rama had mastered this ‘rare’ literary work. Anyhow, the scholar was a guest and the emperor could not be rude to him and so he said, “Well, Sir, if you wish the debate to take place tomorrow, so be it. The darbar is adjourned now.”

The scholar hurriedly got up with his disciples and rushed to the guest house where he was staying. The next day he was not seen at the darbar and when the emperor sent word to the guest house, they found he had left the kingdom with bag and baggage.

The emperor, with a bemused expression looked at Rama and asked him, “Rama, even I have not read this literary work ‘Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam’. What is it about?”

Rama with a sparkle in his eyes, opened the silk bundle he was holding and to the utter shock of every one present, the bundle contained a dried twig of a sesame plant and a rope which is used to tie a buffalo.

To the confused onlookers, Raman explained, “This sesame is called ’tila’ in sanskrit.’Kashta’ in Sanskrit, means stick and so the twig of a sesame plant is ’tilakashta’.’Mahisha’ is buffalo in Sanskrit and ‘Bandhanam’ means tying in Sanskrit. This rope therefore is ‘Mahisha Bandhanam’ as it is used for that purpose. Now you know what “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam” is all about!”

The courtiers and the emperor were guffawing uncontrollably at the wit of Rama and the emperor as usual gave Rama loads of gifts for saving the name and fame of Vijayanagara Kingdom.

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