Krishna Deva Raya was without doubt the greatest king of India during his time. He was very much interested in preserving this status. Some of his ministers and courtiers exploited this weakness of the King by constantly making him spend his treasury to acquire new exotic items from across his kingdom and abroad.
The wise minister, Tenali Ram, recognized this problem. He knew that bringing this directly to the King’s attention will only incur wrath. But Krishna Deva Raya was an intelligent monarch, so Tenali Ram waited for an opportunity to point out to the King his own flaw so that the King could make amends.
The cunning ministers and corrupt courtiers were having the time of their lives and fattening their purses by presenting the King fake and worthless objects touted as invaluable treasures.
Chatur Pandit was the chief among these greedy ministers. His greed for gold coins from the King knew no bounds. He was always thinking of cleverer ways to extract more undeserving rewards from the King. Tenali Ram was watchful of Pandit’s activities.
One day, Chatur Pandit arrived at the King’s court with a red peacock! The King was amazed. Nobody in the court had ever seen such a spectacle before. “This is truly the most exotic animal we have ever seen, “ remarked Krishna Deva Raya, his eyes widening in awe. “What are extraordinary creature!”, chimed the courtiers in chorus.
Seeing that the moment was ripe, Chatur Pandit began to speak: “Your Majesty, It gives me immense pleasure to add to the royal menagerie this rarest of the birds. For the last two years, two of my loyal servants, well-trained in the sciences of animal tracking and hunting, had been scouring the dense forests across the world to capture it. Finally they managed to snare it from the densest jungles of Mukhya Pradesh. I am glad to present to your Highness, the greatest king in the world, the fruits of our hard labor. With this priceless bird in your custody, your prestige will reach the heavens.”
Tenali Ram observed all this drama with a gentle smile dancing on his lips. Well-versed in the natural sciences, he knew that a Red Peacock is either a rare mutant or an outright fake. “Verily a bird that inhabits the verdant forest cannot survive if it has a bright red plumage of this size,” Tenali Ram thought, “ With such a prominent color and limited flight, it will be in more danger than a sitting duck from predators. “ Though he was familiar with the nefarious activities of Chatur, Tenali Ram decided to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
He kept on observing the bird very carefully.
King Krishna Deva Raya was thoroughly impressed with Chatur’s presentation. “You are indeed our loyal courtier, Chatur Pandit,” he said, “Ask right away, how shall we reward you?”
“Being your humble servant is all the blessing I seek this birth,” fawned the cunning minister, “But I will be happy if the King can refund me the wealth I had to part with in order to fund the arduous expedition seeking this creature.”
“Absolutely!”, thundered the King, “Treasurer, I order you to pay Chatur whatever he demands.” “One hundred gold coins,” shrilled Chatur Pandit without any delay. “One moment, O Beloved King,” interjected Tenali Ram! Everyone turned their attention to him.
“I think we should observe this bird in captivity for at least a week before paying for the expedition. I suspect that such a rare bird from the deep forest might find it difficult to survive in the new conditions. I volunteer to undertake another expedition to the densest jungles of Mukhya Pradesh to bring back the brothers and sisters of this magnificent Red peacock so that it shall be happy to be in the royal zoo.”
Krishna Deva Raya leaned back on this throne. From the expression on Tenali Ram’s face, the King knew that his cleverest minister was up to something. The King had the highest regard for the intelligence of Tenali Ram. So he played along.
Before Chatur Pandit could voice his protest, the King stood up and commanded, “I here by order Tenali Ram to return to this court in two weeks with more specimens of the rare Red peacock species so that our menagerie can be enhanced.”
The King left the court and the courtiers followed. Tenali Ram remained seated till everyone had left. Then he walked over to the area were the peacock was displayed and picked up a feather that had fallen off.
It was clear to him that the red color had been painted on!
Tenali Ram did not attend the court for the next ten days. While this made Chatur Pandit very anxious, the King and other courtiers had forgotten about the “expedition” that was sanctioned. Tenali Ram had not left town. He was not having a tough time trying to locate more red peacocks in the far away jungles. He remained happily at home. His spies tracked down the painter whom Chatur Pandit had employed to “create” the Red Peacock. The painter was terrified when he was brought over to Tenali Ram’s house.
“Don’t be afraid,” Tenali Ram calmed him, “You have done no harm. You did not know the hidden agenda of Chatur Pandit. In fact, your work was so flawless that the King and all the courtiers were convinced the peacock was naturally red. Now I would like to use your talent for a good cause. Paint for me ten more peacocks. I will make sure that your service is duly rewarded.”
On the 14th day after the expedition was sanctioned, a poster appeared outside the palace announcing:
“Triumphant return of Minister Tenali Ram. The family of the rarest of the birds. The Incredible Red Peacocks. On display today. Only for One day. At the court of the Living Legend Emperor Krishna Deva Raya.”
The palace grounds were packed with people as the court assembled that day. The King himself arrived early eager to find out what amusing trick Tenali Ram was going to pull.
As the clock struck ten, Tenali Ram entered the court. Following him were handlers pushing cages that held ten brilliant red peacocks.
“Long Live the King,” said Tenali Ram. “I have returned with the specimens as promised. I would like to be rewarded for the labor.”
“What a remarkable achievement,” said the King. “We are very pleased with you, Tenali Ram. I order the treasurer to pay you one thousand gold coins as the price of these ten red peacocks.”
“Actually your majesty that is not how much they cost,” said Tenali Ram “How much do you want?”, asked the King puzzled. “I’d like to be paid a bucket of water, a bag of red ochre powder and one gold coin to reward the skill and labor of this artist,” said Tenali Ram pointing to the painter who had come along with him.
A dark cloud of fear descended on Chatur Pandit’s face when he recognized the painter. He knew he had been caught red-handed indeed. He began sweating profusely in anticipation of King’s anger and punishment.
Krishna Deva Raya realized that he had been tricked. He was about to order his soldiers to arrest Chatur Pandit when Tenali Ram spoke, “Dear King, do not be wrathful. Minister Chatur Pandit was instrumental in helping me bring an important matter to your attention. Beloved King, you were so blinded by your desire for power and prestige that you were willing to accept that a red peacock could really exist. You forgot how ridiculous it would be that a bird of this size with such a bright red coloration survived in a forest full of tigers, lions and other predators! Your arrogance in your wealth made you pay a price to possess such an exotic looking beast without even considering whether it is true or what is its worth.”
“O Just Emperor,” he continued, “ for some time now lot of the money from our treasury has been wasted in the acquisition of the exotic and the extraordinary. The true prestige of a King comes from the prosperity of each citizen in his Kingdom not from the garish displays of wealth. I urge you to spare Chatur Pandit and reward this painter who helped me bring this to your attention.”
King took couple of minutes to way the wise words of his brilliant minister. He realized his grave mistake. He promised Tenali Ram that he would be more prudent in future. He apologized to his citizens and courtiers for having abused the kingdom’s wealth in a trivial pursuit of prestige and status.
Chatur Pandit fell at the King’s feet seeking mercy. He was banished from the court for a month as a token punishment and was ordered to return all the previous gifts he had received from the court.
By then, monsoon clouds of the late morning had arrived. The peacocks were dancing at the sight of the thick black rain laden clouds. The pouring rain soon began washing off the red paint from them. King Krishna Deva Raya could not help laughing at this sight. He was very pleased that he had the good company of Tenali Ram to teach him good lessons whenever necessary. With such wise men to assist him, he felt confident about his reign.
The people danced in the rain at the good fortune of having a King who was not hesitant in admitting his mistakes and making amends. Chatur Pandit walked home alone in the rain.
The Red Peacock – Tenali Raman Stories