Humour in the court

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By 2017-07-16

By Priyangwada Perera
Ceylon Today Features

The love for reading is fading fast. There are many reasons for this lack of interest. Accuse technology or the difference in generations but there is also a lack of content. In spite of books being published at a rate, what they offer is not always appealing. Most books are limited in what they have to offer. Once in a while, a book comes out that can be easily read by many. Birbal Ge Nuwana or The Wisdom of Birbal by Praneeth Dhanushka is the latest entry to Sri Lankan literature.

Translating into Sinhala from English, Praneeth Dhanushka has done a fine job in bringing both enjoyment and enlightenment in a small book. The author's choice of translation is indeed praiseworthy. At a time where so much of rawness is attributed to each aesthetic creation, Birbal's stories are a welcome change. The collection of 30 short tales brims with wit and humour. If you are a fan of our Sri Lankan stories of Andare or the famous Mulla Nasruddin - the character from ancient Persian folkore, this book would definitely bring much enjoyment. Sources say that Birbal or Raja Birbal was a Hindu advisor at the court of the Mughal emperor,

Akbar. Akbar also appointed him as a poet and singer in the court around 1556-1562 and he was one of Akbar's most important courtiers who was considered a navaratna. These folk tales are popular in the Indian sub continent for their unusual wit and intelligence. Sources further say that, by the end of the reign of Akbar, local folk tales emerged associating Birbal's interactions with Akbar spreading Birbal's cleverness and unusual wit to a wider audience. As the tales became more and more popular in India, Birbal is said to have eventually become a 'legendary figure' throughout India.

In spite of Birbal being one of the most trusted and favoured of courtiers, his life is not without challenges. There is a whole set of courtiers wanting to blacken his name. As in with all the cases of a popular figure at court, not all of his companions are delighted at this man's glory. Most cannot accept Birbal's brilliance. At times, influenced by them even the emperor puts Birbal through tests.

The tales have more to offer when Birbal has to contest them to prove his brilliance. It also reminds us that even the best of men could never really have an easy and smooth path where there are many to compete. Yet, they all end in proving Birbal's wit. Furthermore, in a more subtle manner even the courtiers and the emperor himself are brought to shame. One cannot help but marvel at his wit. Perhaps it is the writer's beautiful style that helps us relate to Birbal easily. In comparison to the tales of Nasruddin, Birbal has a lot more humour in its simplicity. The book is also ideal to do a comparative study on folk tales and to draw parallels with what we have read under some other character or court jester.

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