Saturday, 24 March 2007

Medasani Mohan: The Avadhani par excellence

March 25, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Every language has its unique literary excellence and scholars vie with one another to reach it. The literary summit for Telugu, the second most spoken language of India, is "Avadhanam". Though the history of Telugu language is as old as the Christian era, only a handful of Telugu scholars have made a mark in this unique literary feat.
"Avadhanam" is a great art of remembrance. It tests the memory and retention power of a scholar. "Avadhanam" is unique to Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit but during the last 50 years this literary feat has been limited to Telugu.
Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Annamacharya Project director Medasani Mohan the other day became the first Telugu scholar to complete the feat of "Pancha Sahasra Avadhanam", when he successfully encountered over 1000 scholars and experts (Pruchchakas), answering instantaneously a whopping 5000 (pancha sahasra) questions in metered verse.
All through he strictly followed the "Chandassu" (syntax for poems), which is mandatory. Mohan by answering the questions of 5009 typical pundits in poetic form has left everyone in Andhra Pradesh in wonder. The programme was organised by Rasamayi Cultural Organisation and the Department of Culture, Government of Andhra Pradesh from February 18 to March 20.
This is also the first time that an Avadhanam was performed with 1000 scholars, each posing five questions or problems. Just imagine. Hundreds of people sitting around and posing questions ranging from dirty politics to noble philanthropy and from crazy cricket to jet-age space technology.
Medasani Mohan answered all the 5009 questions posed to him by people drawn from various walks of life. Not in prose form. But in verse and that too in metered verse.
A person who encounters eight Pruchchakas is an "Ashta" (eight) Avadhani and 1000 Pruchchakas is a "Sahasra Avadhani". Mohan has surpassed this and achieved the rare title of "Pancha Sahasra Avadhani". The task before Medasani Mohan, the "Pancha Sahasra Avadhani" (the scholar who has performed Avadhanam with 5000 scholars each posing one question or 1000 scholars each posing five questions) was not easy.
Mohan had to answer the questions in poetic form in the manner and style suggested by the scholars who came up with the queries or literary problems.
For instance if the person posing the question wants the answer using or deleting certain words, the Avadhani must oblige. If the Avadhani fails to reply in poetry using the words offered to him, he does not qualify for the literary feat.
The literary questions consisted of a description given in prose and the Avadhani expressed them as a poem. He was also asked to construct only a particular type of poem/s. Mohan had succeeded in this gigantic task.
"Avadhanam is not an easy job. It is not just the art of remembrance. The Avadhani has to be a great scholar, a master in Telugu language, its culture, traditions, besides being well-versed in day-to-day affairs. Even while the questions are posed to and issues brought before the Avadhani, a person goes on ringing a bell to distract the attention. At times, 10 people pose questions one after another and the Avadhani has to answer the questions in the serial order, all the 10 at a time. If the persons posing questions want the Avadhani to answer the question No. 2 first and No. 8 last, the Avadhani has to oblige," says Dr Yelluri Siva Reddy, who co-ordinated Mohan's Avadhanam.
Mohan completed the Avadhanam in a record 30 days. At the end of the programme, he recited some of the select padhyams (poems) which he composed instantaneously in the past 30 days. And here lies the test for the memory power of the Avadhani.
"It is an oral tradition. Nothing is recorded or written down. The Avadhani has to remember whatever he had said during the course of the programme so that he could recite it during the "Dharana" or retention test conducted at the end of the Avadhanam. Mohan recited 5009 Telugu padhyams instantaneously for the questions posed to him. He composed a padhyam in a record time of 17 seconds," points out senior scholar Dr T Srinivasacharyulu.
The major challenge before the Avadhani was that he should not recite the entire poem in a single go. After listening to a question, he has to construct the first line of the poem, recite it and move on to the next question. After the questions session is over, the Avadhani has to recite one line of poem each and return to the first question in a round-Robin fashion before continuing with the second line of the poem. Since each poem has four lines, Mohan returned to each of the questioners or Pruchchakas four times, one line of the poem each time.

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