King Krishnadeva Raya celebrated Dussehra with pomp and splendour every year as it is a very important festival which has been celebrated in the erstwhile Mysore state since ages. The king decided to hold a debate competition as part of the celebrations.
Invitations were sent far and wide to invite participants to the event. Though the Rajguru was one of the most learned men with a vast reservoir of knowledge and ability to speak on any subject, he somehow felt nervous this time as he knew that very learned men were expected to participate in the event. He turned to Rangachari, one of his friends among the courtiers to express his doubts and nervousness. The latter advised the Rajguru to refrain from attending the court on the appointed day and make some excuse.
But the Rajguru said that the king would not accept his excuse unless there was some valid reason for his absence from court. Rangachari told him, “Don’t worry. Leave it to me. I’ll handle it.”
On the appointed day, the king asked the courtiers, “Where is the Rajguru? He was supposed to be present here but he seems to be missing.”
Rangachari came forward and replied, “Your Majesty, the Rajguru could not come as he is suffering from a strange disease where the brain starts itching.”
The king was surprised to hear of such a disease and replied, “Nonsense, I have never heard of such a disease.”
Tenali Raman, who was standing silently all the while, intervened to say, “Your Majesty, it can be possible. Even my eyes start itching when I read a lot. Probably the Rajguru had used his brain too much and it began to itch.”
The king admonished him, “Tenali Raman, when have I ever seen you read anything? You seem too engrossed in the happenings in the court.”
At this the courtiers began to laugh loudly. The king became angry and said, “This is no laughing matter. How is it that the Rajguru’s brain is itching when learned men like Shankaracharya, Ramanuja-charya, Madhava-charya and others never complained of suffering from such a disease?”
Tenali Raman explained, “Your Majesty, this can happen when one exercises the brain beyond its capacity.”
The court again burst into laughter and this riled the king still further. He said, “This is no reason for you all to laugh. Rajguru is the head of all the people in court and he is a very respectable and learned man. You should not be making fun of him.”
Tenali Raman replied, “Yes, that is what the Rajguru also thinks about himself.”
The king asked, “What do you mean?”
Rangachari spoke out, “Tenali Raman, you cannot make fun of the Rajguru. He is a senior and most respected person here. He is much senior to you. No matter where he goes, he is respected more than you. You come only second to him.”
At this Tenali Raman shot back, “Oh really! Don’t you know that we wash our hands first before washing our face, but does that make the hands more important than the face?”
Rangachari became red with anger and humiliation and left the court in a huff. The court burst out into peals of laughter.