Saturday November 18, 2017

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).

Also Read: Concentration combines with entertainment to become Avadhaanam: Shataavadhaani R Ganesh

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 ChitraAvadhaanam 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:

Interview of Shataavadhaani R. Ganesh: Part 1

Next Story

Early Exposure to Language May Enhance Child’s Reading and Writing Skills

Researchers examined the spellings of 179 American children aged three years, two months to five years and six months, who were pre phonological spellers

Toddler reading a book. Pixabay
  • New evidence suggests that children start learning about the important aspects of reading and writing at an early age
  • In the pre phonological activity, the study found that the children used letters that did not reflect the sounds in the words 
  • The research will enhance the possibility that teachers could get useful information from children’s early attempts to write

July 25, 2017:   The important part of reading and spell is to learn about the use of letters in written words and sound in spoken words. A study carried out by the researchers from Washington University in St. Louis in Missouri, United States has discovered that early exposure to language may enhance a child’s ability to identify and comprehend important rules and pattern of how letters are used in a particular language to develop words.

“Our results show that children begin to learn about the statistics of written language, for example about which letters often appear together and which letters appear together less often before they learn how letters represent the sounds of a language,” said study co-author Rebecca Treiman to ANI.

Researchers examined the spellings of 179 American children aged three years, two months to five years and six months, who were pre phonological spellers. The children used letters that did not reflect the sounds in the words they were asked to spell when asked to try to write words.

The older pre phonological spellers showed more understanding about English letter pattern than the younger pre phonological spellers.

ALSO READ: Toddlers Using Gadgets May Appear Cool but Involve Health Risk 

Treiman said, “The findings are important because they show that exposure to written words during the three-to-five-year age range may be important in getting children off to a strong start with their reading, writing and spelling skills.”


He further added, “Our results show that there is change and improvement with age during this period before children produce spellings that make sense on the basis of sound.”

The research further enhances the possibility that teachers could get useful information from children’s early attempts to write.  It would thus show whether a child is on track for future success or whether there might be a problem, Treiman explained.

– prepared by Naina Mishra of Newsgram, Twitter @Nainamishr94

Next Story

Language Lessons For Your Baby May Start in Womb

The study showed that foetuses can hear things, including speech in the womb

The findings if a new study by MIT researchers could offer a possible way to reduce the risk of autism. Pixabay
  • A baby can distinguish the difference between sounds used in various languages even a month before being born
  • The study showed that foetuses can hear things, including speech in the womb
  • The team examined 24 women, averaging roughly eight months pregnant

New York, July 18, 2017: Love to speak to your unborn baby? Well he or she can typically distinguish the difference between sounds used in various languages even a month before being born, an interesting study has shown.

The study showed that foetuses can hear things, including speech, in the womb, although the voice is muffled.

In the study, the foetal heart rates changed when they heard the unfamiliar, rhythmically distinct language (Japanese) after having heard a passage of English speech, while their heart rates did not change when they were presented with a second passage of English instead of a passage in Japanese.

“The results suggest that language development may indeed start in utero. Foetuses are tuning their ears to the language they are going to acquire even before they are born, based on the speech signals available to them in utero,” said lead author Utako Minai, associate professor from the University of Kansas.

Also Read: Pregnancy seems Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors: Study

“Pre-natal sensitivity to the rhythmic properties of language may provide children with one of the very first building blocks in acquiring language,” Minai added.

For the study, published in the journal NeuroReport, the team examined 24 women, averaging roughly eight months pregnant.

Minai had a bilingual speaker make two recordings, one each in English and Japanese — argued to be rhythmically distinctive language, to be played in succession to the foetus.

“The intrauterine environment is a noisy place. The foetus is exposed to maternal gut sounds, her heartbeats and voice, as well as external sounds.

“Without exposure to sound, the auditory cortex wouldn’t get enough stimulation to develop properly. This study gives evidence that some of that development is linked to language,” explained Kathleen Gustafson, a research associate professor at the varsity. (IANS)

Next Story

World’s oldest Languages: 10 spoken in world today

Over the years, languages have taken up many forms diverging from different roots. These ten languages have survived the threat of extinction and are still spoken around the world today.

10 oldest languages
One of the 10 oldest languages: The Torah is the holy book for the Jews. It is written in Hebrew, the Jewish language. Wikimedia

June 7, 2017: 

Lingual identity is a part of community’s identity. Over the centuries of societal evolution, languages have evolved too. The languages that were born many years ago have provided the basis for some of the contemporary languages that we see today. However, these 10 of the world’s oldest languages still live today. 


Lithuanian is the oldest surviving Indo-European Language. It is related to Sanskrit, Latin, and Ancient Greek. Around 4 million people in the world today speak Lithuanian. It was added to the official languages of the European Union in 2004. 

Oldest Lithuanian Book. Wikimedia


Farsi is the name given to the Persian language in Iran and is the official language of the country. It is primarily spoken in Iran and Afghanistan. 

Farsi Alphabets. Wikimedia


About three and a half million people are estimated to speak the Icelandic language today. It’s spoken in Iceland and in Northern Ireland. It was named the official language of Iceland only in 2011! The language is so historically old that words had to be introduced by the language purists. Icelandic did not have the word for ‘computer’, so the people came up with one.

Extract of Icelandic language. Wikimedia


Along with Swedish, Finnish is the official language of Finland. Around 7 million people in the world speak Finnish. The language emerged in written form only in the 16th century!

The first page of Abckiria (1543), the first book written in the Finnish language. Wikimedia


Georgian is the biggest Kartvelian language. It is the official language of Georgia. So about 4 million people in Georgia speak the language and an additional 5 hundred thousand abroad. It is the only Caucasian language with an ancient literary tradition.

Georgian Language. Wikimedia Commons.


A mystery to the linguistics, Basque is spoken by Basque people in France and Spain. There is evidence that it existed long before the birth of romantic languages- before the Romans brought with themselves Latin to the European land. 

Location between France and Spain where Basque langue exists. Wikimedia Commons.


The Jewish language fell out of common usage back in 400 CE, but the Zionist movement popularized the language once again. While the Jews in Western Europe continued to speak the European language that prevailed on land, the Eastern European Jews sought a Jewish homeland in Israel and began using the Hebrew to establish Jewish solidarity. 


There is compelling evidence that Jewish language Hebrew is in fact derived from Tamil. It was the Asura language of the Babylonians. Many African languages are derived from Tamil as well. Because of its antiquity, it is was declared a classical language by UNESCO. The official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore is spoken by 78 million people worldwide. 

Ancient Tamil Script – Tanjore Bragadeeshwara temple. Wikimedia Commons.


The Macedonian language dates further back than the origin of the Slavic languages. It shares the same dialectic continuum as Bulgarian. It is the official language of the Republic of Macedonia. 

Macedonian Language. Wikimedia Commons.

Irish Gaelic

Gaelic (called Gaeilge) is the official language of Ireland. It is called Irish Gaelic to differentiate it from Scottish Gaelic. It was used by the Celtics. The study of language is compulsory for school children. 

Advertisement in Irish Gaelic. Wikimedia

Though there exist many other languages that are counted amongst the oldest in the world- The two most popular and oldest being Sanskrit and Latin, from which contemporary languages have emerged, but the number of people still using this language is substantially small. Back in 2001, Sanskrit was estimated to be spoken by 15,000 people as their native language. The influence of Latin is also seen in various other languages (and fields) but as such the language is not spoken today.

by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394