What could be more magical than evenings spent discussing poetry, especially classical poetry? Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth’s recently concluded online workshop on Avadhānam was an even more enchanting experience on all accounts. For ten evenings, the participants remained spellbound by the words, wit, and wisdom of Śatāvadhānī Dr. R. Ganesh, one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars, and a master of the art of Avadhānam.
This long-awaited and much-anticipated workshop, from 5 to 15 August 2020, was jointly organised by Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth (CVV) and Indic Academy. This excellent opportunity to learn about a unique classical literary art form which celebrates lateral thinking and multitasking, from the master himself, was organised as part of the Sanskrit Month celebrations at Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth in collaboration with Chinmaya International Foundation.
Initially planned as an intensive five-day workshop at Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth’s serene Eswar Gurukula campus in Ernakulam, in March 2020, it had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was indeed a source of joy for all involved that this workshop on Avadhānam became a reality, though in a different mode, through the sincere efforts of numerous well-wishers.
The workshop began with a short inaugural session on 5 August and saw many a distinguished speaker address the online gathering of registered participants on Zoom and other interested listeners on Facebook. A melodious maṅgalācaraṇam or benedictory verse on Goddess Saraswati by Sri Swapnil Chaphekar, Assistant Professor of the School of Kalayoga, was followed by a warm welcome address by Prof. Gauri Mahulikar, Dean of Faculty at CVV. She also conveyed a heart-warming welcome message from Swami Advayananda, Trustee of Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth and in-charge of Chinmaya International Foundation.
Prof. Nagaraj Paturi, Director of Indic Academy, inaugurated the workshop and delivered an engaging inaugural address beautifully describing the tradition of Avadhānam. He declared the workshop open with the blessings of all preceptors. Prof. Shrinivasa Varakhedi, Vice Chancellor, Kavikulaguru Kalidasa Sanskrit University, another honoured guest for the day, gave a special address in which he highlighted the significance of educating the audience along with the poets who practise this art form. Following this, Vice Chancellor Prof. Nagraj Neerchal delivered his presidential address explaining the background of this workshop and his impressions of the Avadhānam from the perspective of one amongst the audience.
The last speaker was the guest of honour himself, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R. Ganesh, who shared his pleasure in conducting the workshop. The vote of thanks was proposed by the workshop’s main coordinator Dr. Ramakrishna Pejathaya, Assistant Professor, School of EGCS at CVV and an Avadhāni himself. Drawing to a close, the host Ms. Neethu S. Kumar, Assistant Professor, School of LLS at CVV, invited everyone to make the seamless transition from the inauguration to the first session of the workshop.
With more than 70 registered participants, the workshop had ten sessions masterfully conducted by Śatāvadhānī Dr. R. Ganesh. The participants remained enthralled as he elaborated upon different aspects of understanding poetry, different types of poetry, the history of Avadhānam and its revered practitioners, the types of poetic challenges given in Avadhānam, the qualities an Avadhāni needs to cultivate and an overview of scholarly work being done on the art form. He was ably assisted by Sri Shashi Kiran B. N., Editor of Prekshaa (A Journal of Culture and Philosophy) who took two sessions on the types of Avadhānam and Dr. Ramakrishna Pejathaya who took a session on various poetic challenges commonly seen as part of Avadhānam.
The sessions were conducted in English with verses from Sanskrit (and other languages) quoted as examples. The discussions at the end were driven by insightful questions in multiple languages from eager participants who did not let their varied linguistic backgrounds deter them from quenching their thirst for knowledge.
On the last day of the workshop, which was also Independence Day, an opportunity was presented to one and all to immerse themselves in the world of Indian classical poetry. A mesmerising Aṣṭāvadhānam performance by Aṣṭāvadhānī Soorya Hebbar, a participant of the workshop, performed at Aksharam, Bengaluru, from 10 am to 1 pm on 15 August 2020, to the delight of all who had been attending the sessions. The event was organised in collaboration with Shaale.com and was broadcast live on YouTube.
The challengers who skilfully brought out the best in the Aṣṭāvadhānī and delighted the audience were: Aṣṭāvadhānī Umamaheshwara N. (Niṣedhākṣarī), Sri Shashikiran B. N. (Samasyāpūraṇa), Aṣṭāvadhānī Ganesh Bhat Koppalatota (Dattapadī), Vidvan Vinayak Bhat Odlamane (Uddiṣṭākṣarī), Smt. Bhavani Kurandwad (Kāvyavācana), Dr. Sachin Kathale (Aprastutaprasaṅga), Sri Raghavendra Hebbalalu (Āśukāvya), and Sri Chetan Shridhar (Saṅkhyābandha).
The viewers exhilarated with the performance were in for yet another treat in the evening in the form of a special lecture by Śatāvadhānī Dr. R. Ganesh, as the last session of the invigorating online workshop on Avadhānam, on a befitting theme—Art of Avadhāna: Prospect and Retrospect. Reiterating the responsibilities of an Avadhani in ensuring the art form flourishes and is valued, this grand finale of the ten-day workshop with Śatāvadhānī Dr. R. Ganesh was also broadcast live on YouTube.
The special lecture was followed by an informal session for the participants alone. It began with Śatāvadhānī Dr. R. Ganesh expressing his gratitude to all the participants and the organisers in words akin to music that falls sweetly and softly on everyone’s ears. More questions were asked and answered, and the lively discussion came to an end only for lack of time. The session also saw participants expressing their sincere gratitude to Sri Ganesh and also to Sri Shashi Kiran and Dr. Pejathaya, for assisting them on their paths to be an Avadhāni and/or a connoisseur of the enchanting art form.
Dr. Pejathaya announced the conclusion of the workshop and invited everyone to the formal valedictory session to be conducted for all events organised as part of the Sanskrit Month celebrations at CVV. The hope that everyone will keep the spark of poetry alive was unexpressed but certainly dominated everyone’s thoughts, as they bid farewell to fellow seekers one more time.