Friday, 6 August 2010

If Andare tradition is to be revived in Sri Lanka, the recruit should not exceed jesting , clowning , or buffoonery, and least of all should not be a

It has been said that during the rein of Sinhala Kings, there was a court jester called Andare who was employed to amuse the King, and his Ministers. There is no historical record about employment of court jesters but folklore has many stories about Andare and the pranks he played on the King , his Ministers and even the Queen.

He was probably there to amuse the King to take away the tension from the day to day work of the King and his Minsters. One Andare story as far as I can remember is the one where the Ministers wanted to play a prank on Andare, and how it rebounded on them.

The King and the Ministers had a day in the week when they go to the Royal Pond to take a bath. Andare always accompanied them on such outings. Each of the Ministers, unknown to Andare, took an egg along with him. At the pond when they were bathing one Minister asked who can dive into the pond and bring an egg. All the Ministers shouted back that they can. Then at a given signal all of them dived into the pond. Andare was surprised, but having no alternative, he too dived into the pond. After a while the ministers came up each holding an egg in his hand.

Andare too came up, but had no egg with him. Andare guessing what happened did not want to accept defeat. Not short of wit, Andare cried “ Cock-a –doodle doo “, and shouted you are all hens and I am the only cock. The King saw how Andare turned tables on the Ministers and had a hearty laugh.

The royal palaces or even the houses of nobles in Europe on the other hand had such providers of amusement to the King and his court of Ministers. They were known as jesters, jokers, fools or buffoons. They wore special multicoloured dresses and floppy hats made of cloth with corners looking like donkey’s ears with small jingle-bells. They made a funny laugh, and carried a sceptre-the bauble. They even criticised the Kings , the Queens, Ministers or even the guests.

They were like pets or mascots. Some of them were licensed fools, they could make a mockery of the Court . They entertained the Court with their clowning, playing music, juggling and telling riddles. King Henry VIII had Will Sommers as his jester.

The jester of King James was Archibald Armstrong. Archibald was a clever sheep-stealer, and supposed to have sought to become a court jester to escape being caught as a thief. It is said that Armstrong became a favourite of the king, and was given great honours at court. But when he became extravagant and began to insult influential people who visited the Court, the King had him thrown out of the Palace.

Jeffrey Hudson was the jester of King Charles I . He was very loyal and popular. He was a small man , therefore he was called the Royal Dwarf. He hid himself inside Giant Pies that were presented to the Royal Court and when it was to be served he jumped out of the pie to the amusement of every one present. In the English Civil War, Jeffrey Hudson fought alongside the Royalists. Jesters were also entrusted to keep the King informed of bad news, no body else would dare tell.

It is also said that the Kings trusted the counsel of the jesters, as they had no vested interest in any region, estate or church. After the over throw of King Charles I in the Civil War, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell had no use of such frivolity.

Charles II, after restoration of Monarchy did not follow the tradition of employing a Court Jester, but he seemed to have liked a theatrical comedian Thomas Killigrew, about whom it had been written that , " Thomas Killigrew the King's fool and jester, with the power to mock and revile even the most prominent without penalty" . There after no British monarch had employed court jesters, but the tradition continued in Russia, Spain and Germany.

Stanczyk was the court jester of Poland, whose jokes and pranks were related to political matters.
The Court Jesters had been recruited from amoung the villagers and peasants. In Russia they were selected from among ugly and old serf-servants, older and uglier men were found to be more amusing and had a better chance of getting recruited as a court jester.
Tarlton the jester of Queen Elizabeth I was a swineherd . When the Duke Eberhard the Bearded of Wurtemburg in Germany, wanted to recruit Paul Wust as the jester he refused. Asked why he refused, he said “ my father, fathered his own fool, if you want one, father one yourself”
India too had Court Jesters recruited from those who were able to make the King laugh. Tenali Rama was one such recruit. Tenali Rama got the King Krishnadevaraja’s Guru to carry him on his shoulders. The King seeing his Guru is being humiliated asked the guards to beat the man riding on the shoulders of his Guru. Tenali Rama knowing what was going to happen jumped off the Guru’s shoulders and going on his knees asked the Guru to climb on to his shoulders to carry him to pardon himself. The Guru consented and climbed on to his shoulders and was being carried when the guards caught them, and beat the man riding on the shoulders.
The King seeing that it was his Guru who had got beaten , inquired why the Guru was beaten. Tenali related the what happened and the King found Tenali’s trick amusing, and he was recruited as the Court Jester.
The history of the manor of Gawsworth describes, the Jester employed in the Manor , one Samuel Johnson as "… of the last of the paid English jesters. . . . In addition to his being employed as jester or mirth-maker by the manorial Lord of Gawsworth, he was a welcome addition at parties given by the neighbouring country families, when he had free license to bandy his witticisms, and to utter and enact anything likely to enliven the company, and to provoke mirth and laughter."
Different from a Court Jester is a Buffoon, he is absurd, idiotic and nonsensical but amuses through his funny behaviour. He is described as ,” ..a clown like publicly amusing person, such as a court jester. In the more modern sense, the term is frequently used in a derogatory sense to describe someone considered a public fool, or someone displaying inappropriately vulgar, bumbling or ridiculous behavior that is a source of general amusement.”

Now about court jesters in ancient Sri Lanka the only known Jester is Andare. Therefore, one does not know whether there had been a tradition in Sri Lanka for the Sinhala Kings to recruit a Court Jester. Even the recorded history of Sri Lanka the Mahavansa does not mention a Court Jester. The history has not recorded even a Minister of a Kings who resembled a court jester.
But Andare as a court jester was intelligent and witty and never made a fool of himself. He is remembered lovingly for his wit and humour, but there is no story of his taking the advantage of his being close to the Kings to humiliate his country men in whatever way.
So if the tradition of a court jester is to be revived in Sri Lanka, one has to recruit one who will not exceed his jesting , clowning or even buffoonery, not to deviate from the Andare tradition.
It should be at least some one like Will Sommers:
“ But this Will Summers was of an easie nature, and tractable disposition, who . . . gained not only grace and favour from his Majesty, but a general love of the Nobility; for he was no carry-tale, nor whisperer, nor flattering insinuater, to breed discord and dissension, but an honest plain down-right, that would speak home without halting, and tell the truth of purpose to shame the Devil; so that his plainness mixt with a kind of facetiousness, and tartness with pleasantness made him very acceptable into the companies of all men.”
A Pleasant History of the Life and Death of Will Summers (1676)

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