kxp5195 at kxp5195 at
Mon Sep 18 09:16:47 UTC 1995

Here is an article I found on soc.culture.indian.telugu regarding
ashhtaavadhaanam which might be interesting for people researching the
subject of Indian art of memory.

    Rama> From rama at Tue Jul 11 17:39:47 EDT 1995
    Rama> Article: 24390 of soc.culture.indian.telugu Newsgroups:
    Rama> soc.culture.indian.telugu Path:
    Rama> From: rama at (Ramarao Kanneganti) Subject:
    Rama> The Eight-fold way Message-ID:
    Rama> <RAMA.95Jul10105359 at> Lines: 99 Sender:
    Rama> netnews at (Shankar Ishwar) Organization:
    Rama> AT&T Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ 07974 Date: Mon, 10
    Rama> Jul 1995 14:53:58 GMT

    Rama> I came to bury ceasar, not to praise him ...
    Rama> Well, I came to report on the ashtavadhaanam held at TANA. I

TANA stands for Telugu Association of North America, I think.

    Rama> haven't changed my opinion a bit; I think these
    Rama> ashTaavadhaanams are completely devoid of any poetic merit.

    Rama> First of all, a bit about ashTaavadhaanam to the
    Rama> uninitiated.  As the name suggests, ashtavadhanam has two
    Rama> components. Eight is the number of questioners and avadhanam
    Rama> means concentration. Eight people ask the performer various
    Rama> questions and he has to answer every one of them
    Rama> satisfactorily. Needless to say it requires memory, courage
    Rama> and knowledge.

    Rama> The following are the eight categories: The poet answers
    Rama> each one in turn. The program lasts for 4 turns.

    Rama> 1. Nishiddhakshari [forbidding a letter]: The poet writes a
    Rama> metered poem on the given topic. [The meter is comparable to
    Rama> iambic pentameter, without going into details.] Whenever the
    Rama> poet gives out a letter in the poem, the questioner forbids
    Rama> him to use a certain letter in the next position. So, the
    Rama> poet has to have at least two alternatives at any point in
    Rama> the poem. All that has to fall into the meter and describe
    Rama> the given topic.

    Rama> 2. Samsyaa puraNam [Filling the poem]: Last line of a poem
    Rama> is given. The poet is required to complete the
    Rama> poem. Generally, the last line has strange meaning. The poet
    Rama> has to give it a normal meaning by various tricks--
    Rama> punctuation, making a new word out of the word at the
    Rama> beginning of the samasya, or imagining a scenario where the
    Rama> meaning is appropriate etc.

    Rama> 3. Datta padi [Given words]: The poet has to compose a poem
    Rama> in the specified meter with the given four words on the
    Rama> given topic. These words can be very wierd. Requests such as
    Rama> "use Rikshaw, Auto, Cycle, Lorry in a poem describing
    Rama> Ramyana" are not uncommon.

    Rama> 4. VarNana [Description]: The poet has to describe the given
    Rama> topic in given meter. This is lame compared to the previous
    Rama> ones.

    Rama> 5. Nyastaakshari [Keep the letters in given positions]:
    Rama> Given a meter and four letter that occur in prescribed
    Rama> places, the poet has to compose the rest of the poem. 4
    Rama> letters out of 80 are given and the topic is also specified.

    Rama> 6. Asuvu [Extempore poetry]: As the name says, in each turn,
    Rama> the poet has to compose a poem in any meter on the given
    Rama> topic. Because of the choice of the meter, the poet selects
    Rama> an easy meter.

    Rama> 7. asamdarbha prasangam [Unrelated conversation]: This one
    Rama> can happen at any time. When the poet is thinking, the
    Rama> questioner starts discussing any topic he feels like. The
    Rama> poet is expected to carry on witty conversation, and of
    Rama> course remember what he was doing previusly so that he can
    Rama> continue later.

    Rama> 8. kaavya paTanamu [Reading from the Classics]: Filling in
    Rama> the context for a poem from a well-known book.

    Rama> At the end of the program the poet has to recount all the
    Rama> poems he composed except for the asuvu ones.

        [rest of the article dealing with criticism of a particular]
        [avadhaanam at TANA conference deleted]

I think MEDasaani Mohan was the ashhTaavadhaani at this function. His
ashhTaavadhaanams and shataavadhaanams are televised on Hyderabad
Doordarshan, according to what I heard.  Famous Telugu
{ashhTa,shata}-avadhaani's in the beginning of this century were two
brothers who were known as Tirupati Venkata Kavulu.

The term used for this skill is dhaaraNaa shakti (concentration)
rather than smaraNa shakti (memory), I believe. To me, it seems that
short to medium term memory is involved here, rather than long term

Just my $0.02 worth:

Poetry has great mnemonic value. Most of the scientific/mathematical
treatises in Sanskrit are in the form of poetry, which is easy to
remember. Sometimes it is in the form of suutras, which are also not
difficult to remember (here the equations/theorems of contemporary
mathematical physics come to mind). An interesting mnemonic is the
kaTapayaadi rule, which is used to refer to numbers in sanskrit
poetry. Again, in astrological/astronomical treatises, they use several
kinds of mnemonics for the same domain. For example they might use
ekaadasha to refer to eleven, and then again rudra (since rudras are
eleven in number). There are numerous examples of this kind of usage
in any astrological treatise. Another example of a mnemonic is
yamaataaraajabhaanasalagam for the gaNas used for metrical

On a different but related note, there is a charming story in one of
the upanishads (may be b.rhdaaranyaka or chaandogya) about how one
forgets all the knowledge one has acquired after having no food for
several days.

A student who can repeat a Vedic hymn just after hearing it once (for
the first time) is called an EkasanthaagraahI. Nowadays, it is applied
to  brilliant or precocious student, who learns very fast.

Sanskrit epics, poems, scriptures are full of stories about brilliant
students. A verse from Kaalidaasa's kumaarasambhavam(?) comes to mind:

taam hamsamaalaashsharadiiva gangaam ......
........ ( forgot the second line :-))
prapedire praaktana janmavidyaa

The Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti has some interesting
comments about memory.

The study of mnemonics and memory in general is very interesting. I
hope to see more posts on this thread by people more knowledgeable
than I am.

Apologies for posting here (I am not an indologist by profession)


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