Tenalirama, still just a boy, went to Kali's temple and chanted all night. The goddess appeared, showing him her thousand faces, but he wasn't afraid. Instead, he laughed.
"Why are you laughing?" she shrieked.
"O Mother," he said, "you have just two hands and a thousand noses. What do you do when you catch cold and your noses are all runny?"
Kali was enraged. "I curse you to be a vikatakavi, a jester."
The boy laughed again. "A jester backwards and forwards!" (vi-ka-ta-ka-vi)
Even Kali had to laugh at his cleverness. "I bless you to be jester to the king."
Inspired by: Folktales from India, edited by A. K. Ramanujan
Notes: This is "How Tenali Rama Became a Jester" (p. 57). As you can see, the word is a syllabic palindrome, not letter by letter, but syllable by syllable. Tenali Rama was the most famous jester of southern India; you can read about him at Wikipedia, and also about the goddess Kali. This was a story that Ramanujan heard as a child growing up.
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