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Avadhaanam is best among arts, in a sense it is the soul of all arts: Shataavadhaani R. Ganesh (Part 2)
By Nithin Sridhar
Literature can be considered as a lifeline of any language. Among the various kinds of literature that could be produced in a language, poetry can be considered as the most creative expression that could be produced using any language.
From the very ancient times, the Indian poets have found a unique way to not only create poetry spontaneously and on the spot but to do so in a creative and artful manner that would entertain the audience. This ancient literary performance, which is still very much alive and flourishing, is known as ‘Avadhaanam’.
In an exclusive interview with NewsGram, Shataavadhaani Dr R Ganesh, who has performed more than 1000 Avadhaanams speaks about the art, its history, the pre-requisites for performing it, and the present conditions.
Interview of Shataavadhaani R. Ganesh: Part 2
Nithin Sridhar: Is Avadhaanam an art or is it a science? What are the preparations required to perform it? What qualities should a poet develop for this?
Dr. Shataavadhaani R. Ganesh: Avadhaanam is essentially an art. My mentor Lanka Krishnamoorthy used to say ‘Avadhaanam Samaadhaanam Kalaanaam Atmanah Kalaa’, i.e. Avadhaanam is best among the arts, it is in a sense the very soul of the arts. All other arts are actually planned presentations, they are not spontaneous. A musician or a dancer rehearses before coming on the stage. But, an Avadhaani can have no rehearsal. He must come with a blank mind. Further, there is no element of distraction in other arts. But, this art has distraction as one of its core elements. That’s why, it is the most creative and challenging art.
At the same time, it must strictly adhere to tenets of various sciences. Sciences mean ‘Shastras’. Vyakarana Shastra (Grammar), Alankara Shastra ( the science of imagery), Chhandas Shastra ( the science of prosody), and many other fields support an Avadhaani in his performance.
Now, coming to the qualities of the person who performs the art i.e. Avadhaani, he must be first and foremost, a poet of very high merit. He must not simply be a poet who composes at his home in his leisure and without any disturbances or other constraints.
Instead, the Avadhaani must be a ‘Sabha-Kavi’- a poet who composes amidst people without using pen or paper. He composes his poetry mentally and on the spot and recites them without any mechanism for correction or modification after the verse is recited.
He should be able to compose and recite a verse on any topic without closing his eyelids. And such verses must adhere to all classical rules of prosody, grammar, and aesthetics.
So, naturally to accomplish all this he must be well trained, must have thorough knowledge about various supporting sciences and nuances of language and literature and must have a lot of worldly experiences and a deeper understanding of the human psyche. If, he has an understanding of other branches of knowledge, be it religion, modern science, philosophy, or fine arts, it would only make his compositions richer.
Secondly, he must have a high level of memory. Because, during Avadhaanam, the poet has neither dictionary, nor grammar books, nor any notepads to make notes. Hence, a very good memory is very necessary for the Avadhaani. Third, the poet must have one-pointed concentration even amidst distraction as, without it, the performance itself is not possible.
But, more than erudition or memory, it is the ability of an Avadhaani to creatively imagine, which is the most vital requirement for the Avadhaana, as, without this, an Avadhaani will not be able to create spontaneous poems by adhering to various constraints.
The poet must also be engagingly talkative who enriches the whole process with his wits and insights. The Avadhaani must be able to cheerfully give answers to all the questions posed to him irrespective of their difficulties. Fourth, having one pointed concentration amidst numerous distractions is a must.
Further, he should not only be able to create good poetry but should also have in-depth knowledge about literature created in the past by master scholars and poets and should be appreciative of the good poetry composed by others.
These qualifications that are required for a person to perform Avadhaanam can be summed up as: Dhara (Spontaneous Versification), (Retention) and Dhairya (Courage and confidence to entertain the masses).
NS: Can you shed light about the process, the principal elements, and the people involved in this literary art performance?
SG: Avadhaanam basically consists of two elements: ‘Avadhaanis’ and ‘Prucchakas’. The person who performs the art by accepting various challenges like composing poetry, solving mathematical puzzles, etc. is called as ‘Avadhaani’. The persons who ask the questions and give challenges to the Avadhaani are called as ‘Prucchakas’.
A layman cannot be a Prucchaka. Only a Vidvat-Rasika i.e. a scholar who is also a person of taste alone can become a Prucchaka. He should have high-level taste in fine arts and literature. Further, he should have in-depth knowledge in the field and be well-equipped in the faculty of learning. For a Sahitya Avadhaanam (performance using literature and poetry), the Prucchaka must also be a poet.
A Prucchaka must be well aware of the nuances and the limitations of the art. He need not be lenient, but he should be compassionate. Similarly, he need not be partial, but he should be pertinent. These are the qualities required to be a Prucchaka.
In the Ashtaavadhaanam, which is the basic unit of this art, there are eight Prucchakas asking questions and posing challenges related to eight different arts and skills. There are a large number of arts and skills associated with literature that could be used in the performance.
In my Ashtaavadhaanams, I usually include following categories of challenges to be posed by eight Prucchakas: Nishedakshara, Samasyapoorna, Dattapadi, Chitra-Kavitaa, Ashu-Kavitaa, Kavya-Vachana, Aprastuta-Prasanga, Samkhya-Bandha, or Ghantaganana.
The Ashtaavadhaanam involves eight rounds wherein Avadhaani is given various challenges. The Nishedakshara, Samasyapoorna, Dattapadi, and Chitra-Kavitaa involves the composition of four poems each containing four lines with one line being composed in each round. The poems in these four categories are to be composed by adhering to various constraints and restrictions that Prucchakas place during each round apart from being grammatically sound and adhering to all poetic principles.
For example, In Nishedakshara, a topic will be given on which a poem has to be composed. But, after each letter that the Avadhaani composes, the Prucchaka will place a restriction that a particular letter should not come next. That is after Avadhaani composes the first letter of the first line, then the Prucchaka, who is a poet himself, will analyze and guess what may become the second letter of the first line of poetry. Then, Prucchaka will restrict Avadhaani from using this particular letter as the second letter of the first line of the poem. Hence, the name Nisheda (restricted) Akshara (letters).
In Samasyapoorna, the fourth line of the poem is given. Usually, the fourth line will be either riddle like, or completely redundant. This redundancy must be solved by composing the first three lines of the poem such that, the whole poem makes sense.
In Dattapadi, four words are given, a topic will be given, and the meter in which the poem is to be composed is given. Avadhaani will have to compose the poem in that particular meter explaining the given topic using given four words. The given words usually will have no connection with the topic. In one of my performances, I had to compose a poem in the praise of Lord Shiva using words like Idli, Dosa, Puri, and Sambar which are all names of food items.
Chitra-Kavitaa is one of the most difficult art to master. Here, cryptic verses have to be composed. The Prucchakas will give a topic and keep restrictions like the poem has to be composed using only 2 letters, or that the poem must have six different meanings or the lines of the poem should be such that they can be read from left to right or right to left, etc.
Then, at the end of four rounds, all the four lines of the poems in each of the four category must be recapitulated, recited, and explained.
Then, during each round, one Ashukavitaa has to be composed. ‘Ashu’ means ‘quick’, hence, Ashukavitaa means ‘quick poems’. Here, the Avadhaani must compose the poem and recite it so fast that no person should be able to write it down. In the Ashtaavadhaanam, a total of four Ashukavite is composed.
In Kavya-Vachanam, few lines from poems composed by great poets are recited by the Prucchakas, and the Avadhaani has to give the context of the poem as well as its critical analysis.
The seventh is ‘Aprastuta-Prasanga’ which literally means irrelevant incident. While all the above six tasks are being carried out, the Prucchaka who is in-charge of Aprastuta-Prasanga, will try to distract the Avadhaani with his witty and irrelevant questions. The Avadhaani should also answer those questions wittily without getting distracted.
The Samkhya-Bandha involves calculation of numbers in the magic square and the Gandhaganane involves keeping a count of the number of times the bell was rung.
This basic design of Ashtaavadhaanam is scaled up in case larger Avadhaanams be it Shataavadhaanam or Sahasraaavadhaanam.
NS: I read about Avadhaanam being performed in painting, dance, mathematics, and using eyes as well. Can you share about how this art is performed in these fields?
SG: Avadhaanam using painting is called as Chitra–Avadhaanam and it is similar to Sahitya Avadhaanam. The artist accepts challenges on the spot and simultaneously creates multiple paintings adhering to constraints placed by the Prucchakas.
Avadhaanam using Mathematics is mainly about memory and calculation and not about spontaneous creativity. Here, the Avadhaani must answer various questions related to mathematics. For example, Magical square, or calculating cube roots of a large number etc.
Similarly, the art can be performed using Music and Dance as well. Though, not many takers are there in these Avadhaanams.
Then, there is ‘Netraavadhaanam’ that involves conveying a sentence or a message using only eye movements alone. But, this Avadhaanam has no creativity in it.
Historically, only Sahitya Avadhaanam has been performed. It is only in recent times, few attempts at other Avadhaanams are being made. Recently, the renowned painter B.K.S.Verma has performed a Chitra-Avadhaanam, wherein he simultaneously created eight different paintings on different themes and using different styles. In Andhra, around a hundred years ago, there was a famous Avadhaani– Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasu who had performed Sangita-Avadhaana.
NG: What is your advice to anyone who wants to take up this art?
SG: To perform this art, one should be a Kavi (poet). Then, he develop himself and become an Ashu-Kavi i.e. one who can quickly and spontaneously create poems. Then, he should become an Abhijata-Ashu-Kavi. ‘Abhijata’ means responsible, subtle, sophisticated, sublime, and elegant. Only after developing all these qualities as a poet, should the person take up Avadhaanam.
A video of Sanskrit Avadhaanam performed by Shataavadhaani Dr. R. Ganesh available on Youtube:
More in the Series:
By Maria Wirth
This is a true story about a Hindu who had converted to Christianity, and who felt the need to convince his family also to convert.
Once on a flight from Germany to India, one of those bright, young Indians sat across the aisle. We started talking. He was a science lecturer at an American university.
When food came, he ordered non-veg and I ordered veg. I teasingly asked him “non-veg”? He replied, “Yes, I started to eat meat when I converted to Christianity eight years ago.”
“You… converted… to… Christianity?” I asked in disbelief. “How could you do this? Are you not aware of their belief?” I kept throwing questions at him. He surely had not expected this reaction from a white woman with the name Maria. In all likelihood he had converted because he wanted to belong and fit in into the new surrounding in America.
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But since I grew up as a Christian, I knew what Christianity claims and he didn’t have answers. Ultimately he fell back at the ‘personal experience with Jesus’ which convinced him that Christianity is the true religion.
I told him, “If your trust in Jesus helps you, great, but why convert?” Doesn’t your own tradition stress the importance of devotion and does it hinder you from trusting Jesus?” And while for you Jesus may be the ideal guide, for others it may be Shiva or Krishna or Devi. Your tradition allows you all freedom whereas the Church binds you to the doctrine. For example it claims that Hindus go to hell. Do you believe that your Hindu brothers and sisters go to hell?” I asked.
I couldn’t believe his answer and by now he did not look anymore so bright. He said, “Yes, we have to believe this.” … we have to…
So I asked him about his family. Will they burn in hell? He had managed to convince his parents to convert, but his siblings had not (yet?) converted.
I really felt pity for him. His mental freedom to question and to enquire was gone.
He had earlier told me that he wanted to return to India. If he did, I hope he has found his way back to common sense and realised the folly to believe that Hindus go to hell.
By- Laxman Balagani
Remote working has grown to be a dominant trend in the post-pandemic world. Gartner anticipates that 41% of employees will work at least some of the time remotely once the coronavirus is in the rear-view mirror. Such a lasting change in the workplace culture has had the biggest impact on cybersecurity.
Many businesses struggle with how to secure remote workers or if it's even worth trying at all due to fears about security risks for those who aren't physically present on-site at any given time. What they need is insightful, practical, and useful visibility across all communication vectors as they support vast, remote workforces. To obtain this level of visibility, organizations should reconsider their data and user protection techniques and strive to get meaningful insights into what's going on behind the scenes.
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There are cyber risk management solutions available today that can help ensure your business stays safe and productive without sacrificing flexibility for your employees.
To guarantee a safe and secure working environment, enterprises must rethink their approach to security and privacy when dealing with a dispersed workforce. This article explores how business leaders should approach cybersecurity risk management in the era of remote working.
A behavior-centric approach based on a human-centric viewpoint on cybersecurity
The growing usage of smartphones, cloud-based apps, and social media in both work and personal has made it clear that people are the new perimeter. To contain these changes, the new cybersecurity risk management strategy, which aims to protect people, places, and things, works on a behavior-centric approach.
This approach centers on understanding users' behaviors using critical data and intellectual property across worldwide IT systems. This strategy is designed to identify problematic employee behaviors and prevent them from escalating. It's a new way of defending against threats that complements the traditional cyber risk management approach of stopping the bad guys.
It has become essential for businesses to integrate edge security, cloud security, and network security into a single, cohesive format. Here are a few steps businesses can take to enhance cybersecurity when working remotely -
To guarantee a safe and secure working environment, enterprises must rethink their approach to security and privacy when dealing with a dispersed workforce.Unsplash
Providing cyber security training to employees who work remotely can help minimize cyber threats. Ideally, employees should be able to spot a cyber scam in action and know how to avoid it in the future so they stay one step ahead of cyber threats. Providing cyber security training through video modules or cyber security e-learning is a great way to help remote employees retain cyber threat prevention techniques, cyber-hygiene standards, and cyber safety procedures.
There is an absence of a true security perimeter in a remote workplace. Thus, organizations must adopt the mentality of zero trust. All systems must be properly secured and require verified access, whether internal or external. Adding a layer of multi-factor authentication is a crucial step that will protect data from unauthorized access.
Ironically, cloud-based security systems offer better cybersecurity risk management than on-premise servers. Cloud systems are built from the ground up to be safe even when exposed to the public internet. This gives them an edge over regular file servers, which are only lightly secured with sensitive data.
The use of collaboration tools and videoconferencing platforms to allow for business interactions while away has increased significantly. Most of these were quickly integrated, with resiliency taking precedence over any security concerns. The recent Zoom-bombing is the poster child for the risks that come with adopting technologies fast. Teams in the CXO suite need to get defensive and audit all tools and platforms for security flaws before integrating them.
We've already seen software-defined networks (SDNs) emerge to define and protect networks, allowing businesses to use a single, holistic approach for all edge computing. Now that remote networks have taken center stage, IT leaders must apply the same strategy across the network and into the cloud to ensure consistency, cohesion, and security.
Remote working makes it imperative to rely on digital connections, making it critical to ensure that they're secure, fast, scalable, and robust across all networks.
Some companies may not embrace working remotely as their modus operandi, while some organizations might cling to an outdated network model. Anyhow, businesses must consider the long-term impacts of technological disruption and look at them as opportunities. With a distributed workforce, organizations must reconsider how they secure and protect their data.
(Disclaimer: This article is sponsored and includes some commercial links.)
By- Devakinanda Ji!
ॐ त्रिकालसन्ध्यानुष्ठितभूम्यै नमः
(Ṫrikāla: Three periods of the day; Sandhya: Obeisance to Sun god; Anuṣthiṫa: Practice, performance)
The word sandhya refers to those times, when night passes into day and day passes into night. They are dawn and dusk. The ritual of one's obeisance to God during these periods is known as sandhyāvandanam. Doing the ritual thrice at dawn (prātah sandhyā), at midday when the sun is right above our head (madhyāhna sandhyā); and dusk (sāyantrah sandhyā) is known as trikāla.
A person who has undergone the upanayana ceremony, as also house-holders (except the working class), are expected to perform this sandhyā ritual three times a day, as a sacred duty. These three rituals have many steps in common. However, in practice, only the first and the last have survived. The scriptures have provided for this modification.
After taking a bath and wearing the traditional religious dress (dhoṫi and chadar or uttarīya) one should apply the religious marks on the forehead (like the vibhūti or the ūrdhva puṇḍra as per one's family traditions), and sit on the seat (kept aside and used only for such religious purposes). Though there are differences in the procedure and the various steps to be followed, the six steps common to all and the detailed procedure has to be learnt from the family priest or the elders in the family.
These six steps are: 1) Āchamanam- is the ceremonial sipping of water from the right hand cupped in the shape of the ear of a cow (gokarṇam) to the appropriate mantras. This āchamanam is a general purification act that precedes every religious undertaking. 2) Prāṇāyāmam- is the control of the prāṇic energy through the regulation of the breathing process as detailed in the works of yoga. Prāṇayāmam helps in the control of the mind also. 3) Mārjanam- is literally means cleansing or purifying. It consists of sprinkling water on specified parts of the body with a mantra. This process will make the body ceremonially pure and fit the ritualistic act. 4) Arghyapradāna-is the offering of water taken in the two hands cupped together, by repeating the Gāyatrī mantra and addressing the Sun-god. This is just to show our gratitude to the Sun-god who is our primary life-support. 5) Gāyatrī japa-is for the goddess Gāyatrī within the orb of the sun. 6) Sūryopasṭhāna- is repeating the prayer addressed to the deity Gāyatrī in the standing posture, facing the sun. This is the last rite of bidding farewell to the goddess after having invoked her and satiated her through japa.
Hence, our land which worships the Sun-god who is our primary life-support, three times a day is known to be 'Trikālasandhyāvandānuṣthiṫa Bhūmi'.