The Indian literary tradition in Sanskrit had long relied on poetry as a medium of revelations. The two greatest epics of Bharata, Ramayana and Mahabharata both constructed through poems. The names of the best-known poets of Kalidasa, Bharavi, Bana, and many others come to mind. The poetic expression has the advantage of expressing the culture, the events pertaining to the time period, and highlights the imaginations of the person composing them.
In this long history of poetry in the Sanskrit language, in the contemporary context, there is an interesting person, a Psychiatry doctor by profession who has taken to poetry full time and has achieved something phenomenal. The very description of a doctor, one might start imagining somebody engrossed only with the medical profession. But for this doctor, the world of Sanskrit poetry was next to his primary passion in life.
He is Dr. Shankar Rajaraman, awarded the prestigious Maharshi Badarayan Vyasa Samman award from the President of India in 2019 for his outstanding contribution to the Sanskrit language and contributions to Citrakavya. Devīdānavīyam and Citranaiṣadham are the two of his Citrakavya works.
Citrakavya loosely translated in English would be “wonder poetry” or a “Poetry with constraints.” Here the poet self imposes a constraint or a rule under which a poem must be constructed. It is like a thin tight rope on which a person carefully balances to walk through while the crowd watches in awe.
Citrakavya can be of several types. It might involve constructing a poem using only a few consonants, being structured in such a way that reading it forwards, gives one meaning, and reading it backward gives another meaning. It is also possible to construct a Sanskrit verse that on a cursory look appears to be in Sanskrit but has words from other languages. One type of Citrakavya involves repeating a word or part of a word in every sentence a concept used in all the verses in the first chapter of Devīdānavīyam the other work produced by Dr. Shankar.
Below is one such poem composed by Dr. Shankar demonstrating how using English words, a Sanskrit verse can be constructed.
गोविन्द वार्दवे यूनो
मैत्री संसारवेशिका ।
govinda vārdave yūno maitrī saṃsāraveśikā | ramāsarobālārko:’ si harīśo’sūnaveṭdaram ||
Doesn’t the verse sound like it is full of English words cleverly imposed to sound like a Sanskrit verse? – “Go win the war the way you know. My three sons are away shikar. Amass a robe all are cosy. Hurry, show soon, await the rum”).”
The verse through the Sanskrit language means the following,
O Govinda! You put out the forest fire (in Gokula) like water. You are the rising sun to the (lotus) lake of Lakshmi. You are the master of Indra even. (Look!) The youth is steeped in worldly existence. Pray protect our lives a little in these times.
Dr. Shankar has employed a technique of using words in a zig-zag way, with repetition of specific words in a specific geometrical pattern.
Look at the below verse,
namo nīrajanābhāya nityāya karuṇābdhaye | (first line)
tamonirasanārkāya daityānīkatṛṇāgnaye || (second line)
On a cursory look, it does not sound anything special but let us see in detail,
Every alternate syllable is the same in the two lines.
Also, read the same in a zig-zag way, it reads the first sentence and when you start from the second row and go in a zig-zag way, the second line gets revealed.
This is called “gomūtrikā” to convey how a Cow is meandering around urinating resulting in a zig-zag pattern behind.
Dr. Shankar assessed if the same concept could be used to construct a Mahakavya, anthology of poems built with these rules in mind.
Citranaiṣadham is a collection of two hundred poems revealing the life of Nala till he married Damayanti. All the verses have the same gomūtrikā meter. Devīdānavīyam another anthology of poems written before Citranaiṣadham had three different Citrakavya concepts experimented with.
The Sanskrit passion for Dr. Shankar started at an early age while studying Sanskrit during his high school days. The curiosity to find how the great epics written by Valmiki and Vyasa involved such voluminous works yet each verse following a meter (Chandas), resulted in dwelling deep into this area of Sanskrit poetry.
Dr. Shankar feels our ancestors explored the full malleability of the language, how to play around with the language, and how to use the concept of sound in a language. It would be difficult to compose more than a lakh verses as done in our epics fully complying with meters applying to each verse. It is possible, the poems were composed based on a rhythm that perfectly blends with the rules of a particular meter.
There are good poets and bad poets too, it is important for a poet to keep reflecting on every composition and how those poems are going to be relevant to the readers in the next three hundred years. This imposes a sense of responsibility on the part of a poet to construct good poems feels Dr. Shankar.
This exceptional talent has helped him in performing the traditional Avadhana in Sanskrit where the Pruchchakas (the person posing questions) challenge various situations and contexts which need to be answered through poetic expressions conforming to the rules imposed in real time without using a pen or paper.
Dr. Shankar has taken to Twitter posting poems in Sanskrit on any topic relevant to lay readers regularly which have become immensely popular for the imagination and the ingenuity of compositions.
Since the times of Bharata Muni (2BCE), Bharata has had a long tradition of dramas. There are ten diverse types of dramas, and Bhana is one of them. The Bhana used a concept of a single actor on stage who keeps walking around and keeps conversing with other passers-by. Through his conversation, an illusion is created that many actors are present.
Dr. Shankar using the same concept has written a Sanskrit play called Nipunapragunakam.
The poetic skills involve exceptional analytical abilities of the brain not only in imagination but using the words and alphabets in different combinations and patterns that involve not only deeper knowledge of the language but subconscious level play of words. There are not many academic chairs in higher education centres in India that can support and develop this domain feels Dr. Shankar, who is keen to pass on this unique talent to the next generation of poets.
Dr. Shankar has the following to express through his own composition,
सर्वमेकमिति प्रोक्तुं कस्य भूयान्परिश्रमः ।
रूपमेकस्य जिज्ञासोरायुर्गच्छति कस्यचित् ॥
It does not take much of an effort to say “Everything is one and the same” but to know even one thing in its entirety demands hard work – some people spend their entire lives in doing it.
The life dedicated to Sanskrit poetry by Dr. Shankar has already motivated many youngsters to tread the same path and shall continue to keep motivating many others to follow in the future.