ONCE King Krishnadeva Raya’s court in Vijayanagar was visited by a trader, who came dressed in all his finery, carrying a metal casket in his hand. On seeing the beautifully carved casket studded with precious stones, the king’s curiosity was aroused because it meant that the trader was very rich and well placed.
The trader went and stood in front of the king and said, “Your Majesty, I am going on a pilgrimage and as I carry all my ancestral wealth in this casket and don’t trust anybody with it, I wish to place this casket in Your Majesty’s safe custody till I return from my long journey.”
The king, pleased at the trader’s faith in his integrity, agreed to the request and turned to the royal treasurer to say, “I want you to weigh this metal casket and store it for safekeeping till this pilgrim returns to claim it.”
But the treasurer replied, “Your Majesty, the royal treasury is full to the brim and there is no place to keep this casket. Should I keep it elsewhere?”
However, the king was not willing to place it elsewhere and so he turned to Tenali Raman, the most reliable person in his kingdom, to ask, “Tenali Raman, I want you to keep this metal casket safely in your custody. Is it alright with you?”
Tenali Raman could not turn down the king’s request and carried the casket to his house to tuck it away in a safe corner.
A few weeks later, the trader retuned to the king’s court to claim his metal casket. The king called Tenali Raman and said, “Tenali Raman, you must be remembering that I had given you a metal casket to keep it safely. Now that the trader has returned, I want you to bring it here and return it to him.”
Tenali Raman went home to bring the casket back. On reaching his room, he picked up the casket and felt that it weighed less than when he had brought it here. In spite of being made of metal and studded with precious stones, the casket seemed much too light. He observed the casket from all sides and hurried to the royal court without the casket. He told the king, “Your Majesty, this trader’s ancestors have forced their entry into my house and are not allowing me to bring the casket to Your Majesty’s court.”
The trader, who was witnessing this scene, lost his temper and shouted, “Your Majesty, Tenali Raman is telling a lie. He wants to keep my ancestral wealth in his house.”
What was more shocking for Tenali Raman was to see some of his fellow courtiers add, “Tenali, we will visit your house to check the casket and if you are proved a liar, then you will have to face severe punishment.”
So the trader, the courtiers got ready to leave. As an afterthought, even King Krishnadeva Raya decided to accompany the group to Tenali Raman’s house. When they reached his house, Tenali Raman took them to the spot where the casket was kept. The king’s eyes fell on one corner of the casket from where ants were trooping in and out. On seeing this, the king asked the courtiers to open the metal casket. Lo and behold, they found sugar inside the box and half of it had already been eaten away by the ants.
The courtiers were shocked at the sight. The king ordered the trader’s arrest for trying to deceive him. On being threatened, the trader spilled the beans, “Some of Your Majesty’s courier had asked me to play this dirty trick to get Tenali Raman punished.”
The king became very angry and ordered that both the scheming courtiers and the trader should be meted out a severe punishment, while Tenali Raman was duly awarded for storing the casket of sugar in his house.