The great king Krishna Deva Raya had a lot of wise ministers in his court. The wisest of them was Tenali Rama. One day, a merchant came to the king’s court from a foreign kingdom. He saluted the king and then said, “Your Majesty, I have heard from many people that you have very wise ministers in your court.
But with your permission, I would like to test the wisdom of your ministers.” This aroused the king’s interest and he gave the merchant his permission. The merchant gave the king three dolls that looked identical. He said, “Though these dolls look similar, they are different in some way. If your ministers can find out the difference, I will bow to their wisdom. But if they can’t, I will assume that there are no wise ministers in your court. I will be back in thirty days for the answer.”
The king asked all of his ministers except Tenali Rama to assemble. He gave them the three dolls and told them to find the difference in them in three days’ time. But at the end of three days, none of the ministers could figure out the difference. The king got worried and called Tenali Rama. He said to him, “Tenali, I did not summon you before because I thought that this problem will be too simple.
But since no one has been able to find the solution, it is up to you now. Find the difference between these dolls.” Tenali took the three dolls and went away.
The problem proved difficult for Tenali too, but at last, after a lot of effort, he figured out the difference. He went to the court with the three dolls on the day that the merchant had to return. Then, he announced in front of the whole court that he had found the difference between the dolls. He said, “These three dolls are different because one of them is good, one medium and one bad.” When everyone asked Tenali that which doll was which, he showed them a tiny hole that was present in the ears of each of the dolls.
Then, he took a very thin wire and put it in the hole of the first doll’s ear. The wire came out from the doll’s mouth. He did the same with the second doll and the wire came out from the doll’s other ear. In the third doll, the wire went to the heart and did not come out.
Tenali Rama explained, “In the first doll, the wire went in through the ear and came out through the mouth. So, this doll is bad as it represents people who cannot keep a secret. In the second doll, the wire came out of the other ear. So, it is medium and represents harmless people who do not understand what is said to them. The third doll, in which the wire went to the heart and did not come out, represents good people who will preserve the secret that you tell them.”
The king, the merchant and all the courtiers were very impressed with Tenali’s wise answer. Then Tenali said, “But there can be another explanation too. The first doll represents people who gain knowledge and spread it among others, so it is good. The second doll represents people who do not understand what they are taught, so it is medium. The third doll represents people who have knowledge but keep it all to themselves. They do not teach anyone anything and so they are bad people.
The king was even more impressed. He asked, “Can there be any other explanation?” Can you think of a third explanation to answer the king?
Tenali Raman and the Three Dolls – Tenali Raman Stories