Sunday, March 27, 2016

Six benefits from Literature

What is Literature? Why does anyone write something? Why do others read it? What is the definition of Literature? What are the uses of Literature? These are some of the questions that are relevant for all times. It is worthwhile to spend some time on discussing these issues.

The word "Literature" is understood by all, but to give a universally acceptable definition of the word is indeed difficult. Literature is defined in many different ways. Literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material. It describes anything from creative writing to more technical and scientific works as well. It is most commonly used to refer to works of creative imagination including works of poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction. Literature represents language or people or culture and tradition. It is universal and often beautiful and provides the readers with wonderful experiences while reading and understanding it. In the Indian context, the word often used for Literature is "Kavya", which includes stage plays (Drushya kavya) also. It has evolved over the years, starting from rock cut paintings and palm leaf preservations to modren day printing and literature on the web. 

The following definition appears to be the closest to what many consider as a good definition of "Literature":

"Literature is a documentation of life seen, known and recorded in an artistic way. It opens new horizons of imagination that leads to an entirely new world. It is also a written evidence of human achievements and failures".

What are the benefits that can derived from literature? Answering this important question has been attempted for generations all over the world. Aristotle's "Poetics" is as old as 4th century BC. "Natya Shastra" of Bharatamuni is also of around the same time. Subsequent Indian scholars have dealt on the benefits of Literature or Poetry extensively. Unfortunately, many of them are lost and not available now. The discussions of the earlier scholars appears to have taken a solid form around 10th or 11th century AD. "Kavya Prakasha" of a scholar poet by name Mammata deals with many aspects of Poetics including the benefits from Literature. Mammata was the maternal uncle of SriHarsha, whose "Naishadeeya Charitam" is reckoned as one of the five great works in Sanskrit literature.

Mammata has enumerated six direct benefits from Literature. First of them is earning name and fame. Second is for earning money and material rewards. Third benefit is to understand the world and dealing with its ways (Vyavahara Jnana). Fourth benefit is to escape from evil effects of life, by application of knowledge gained from Literature. Fifth is to obtain immediate pleasure from reading or contemplating on it. Sixth is to receive suitable advice which is similar to the one given by a loving wife.

Are these the true benefits? They really are, but the benefits may accrue to the writer or reader or both. The first benefit of earning name and fame directly belongs to the writer. Many well known and respected names in the literary world today bear testimony to this. Generations after generations have read and enjoyed the epics in many languages and their times are entirely immaterial. Many readers have also become scholars and earned their names by following the earlier writers. Many poets lived a good life due to the support they received from Kings and landlords of their times confirming the second benefit of monetary earnings. Selling copyright of yet to be written novels in the present times also indicates this. The third benefit of using the knowledge from literature for managing one's affairs from time to time is experienced by all of us.  There are many examples of escaping from evil in our lives by bringing in earlier learning from reading literature, thus reinforcing the fourth benefit.  One of the most important benefit from reading literature is obtaining immediate enjoyment or pleasure of "Rasaanubhava", which is the fifth benefit.  

The sixth benefit relates to receiving advice from literature. Mammata has mentioned that the type of advice one perceives from literature is similar to the one received from a loving wife or spouse. There are three types of advices one can receive. They are defined as Prabhusammita, Mitrasammita and Kantaasammita. Prabhusammita is the type of advice that is received from someone in authority, like a King or higher authority in an establishment. This is an advice that must be followed and there is no escape from it. Failure to do follow it results in severe punishment. Mitrasammita is the type of advice received from a good friend. it is much more acceptable to one's mind but it is still received from an external source. Kantaasammita is the advice received from a loving wife and hence the receiver does not even feel he is receiving an advice!  It is close to receiving advice from oneself and thus becomes much more acceptable to follow. The biggest advantage of literature is in generating such type of advice from within oneself. 

Mammata's summary of the six benefits of literature enumerated in his "Kavya Prakasha" is as under:

काव्यं यशसे अर्थकृते व्यवहारविदे शिवेतर क्षतये |
सद्यः परनिवृतये कान्तासंमिततया उपदेशयुजे ||

Kavyam Yashase Arthakrute Vyavaharavide shivetara kshataye,
Sadyah paranivrutaye kantaasammitataya upadeshayuje. 

Prof T N Srikantaiah (Ti Nam Sri) is a highly revered and big name in Kannada Literature circles. The South End Circle near Jayanagar, Bengaluru is named after him, though people still refer to it as South End Circle. The circle has also disappeared now as the metro line passes over the area. He was a scholar par excellence and did yeoman service to students of Literature. He is credited with suggesting the word "Rashtrapati" as equivalent of the "President of India" which was accepted unanimously and is used now. 

His celebrated work "Bharatiya Kavya Meemamse" is a trend setter in study of Poetics and Aesthetics in Literature. A study of this book brings out many valuable insights into Literature and its role in human life, including the above benefits from literature.   

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Not this curse please, please

A new auditorium, named as "Kalamandira", was constructed in the city of Mysuru nearly four decades ago. A magnificent structure on a prominent location in the city was due for inauguration. A series of befitting functions were arranged to open the auditorium for public use and as a center for music concerts, dance performances, stage plays and important functions. The organizers deemed it fit to arrange a "Shehnai" concert by Ustad Bismillah Khan as one of the events. Shehnai has been associated as a "Mangala Vadya" since a long time and hence it was indeed appropriate. Mysuru and Ustad Bismillah Khan shared pleasant memories of the past as well. During the times of the Late Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, the Ustad had given a concert in the royal palace which is still remembered for its divinity. The maharaja had presented a special "TopI" (cap) to the Ustad in appreciation of the divinity of the concert. The Ustad had kept this topi as a prized possession and used to wear it on important occasions. He was naturally delighted to be invited for the inaugural concert at Mysuru. 

Ustad Bismillah Khan came from a family of Shehnai masters from Bhojpur in north Bihar. He enhanced the popularity of the wind instrument even further and came to be identified with the instrument in total. He regularly played on the instrument at the Kashi Viswanath Temple. There was special place for his concerts in All India Radio and Doordarshan on Republic day and Independence day. A Kannada film by name "Sanadi Appanna" (1977) was released a few months before the inauguration of Kalamandira. Sanadi is the Kannada name for the Shehnai. The role of Appanna in the film was played by the popular Kannada film actor Dr Rajkumar. The film became a runaway hit due to the twin factors; Dr Rajkumar's acting and the shehnai score by Ustad Bismillah Khan. Dr Rajkumar is reported to have said that the true hero of the movie was Khan Sahib himself. The Ustad also is said to have often quoted of a lunch he had with Dr Rajkumar during the filming of the movie. The respect between the two was mutual and spontaneous.

The auditorium was filled to capacity on the day of the concert. People were sitting on every available space and even on the steps. As the Ustad began his concert and reached the crescendo of the first piece of the concert, some in the audience who had occupied the front seats started throwing coins on the stage and around the artistes. They did it to show their appreciation, but the damage was done. The Ustad was disturbed from his deep involvement and concentration level. He abruptly stopped playing the instrument and kept it aside. Everything came to a standstill and it took a few minutes for many in the audience to understand as to what had happened.

The Ustad spoke softly but firmly. He admonished those who threw the coins at him and other artistes on the stage. He said that artistes perform in a place like Mysuru not for money or material rewards. What the artistes look for is the affection and appreciation of their efforts by connoisseurs of arts and music. He chided the miscreants and advised them to leave him and the art lovers to enjoy the bliss of shehnai and music. The elderly among the audience had now taken charge and cleared the miscreants from the auditorium. They apologized to the Ustad who readily resumed his concert. The resumed concert went into extra time and those present at the event still remember the quality of that concert.

Ustad Bismillah Khan was a rare artiste who was awarded all the high civilian awards, the "Padmashri", "Padma Bushana" and "Padma Vibhushana", one after the other. He was also awarded the highest civilian award of "Bharata Ratna" in 2001. He lived a full life of 90 years and played the instrument till his last days in the year 2006.

Situations like this crop up now and then in our lives. Performing before people who do not understand the subtlety and do not have the refined maturity level is one of the biggest pains for performers. Teachers are also confronted with such situations often in their classes; a few disinterested students disturb the decorum of the classes to the detriment of the interested majority students. Despite such disturbances one has to carry on with his sacred duties by dealing with the miscreants firmly.

A subhashita from "Samayochita Padyamalika" aptly sums up such situations. A poet stands before Lord Brahma, who is credited with the writings on one's forehead about the punishments he has to face during his lifetime. The poet begs thus:

इतर पाप फलानि यथेच्छ्या शिरसि लिखे सहे चतुरानन |
अरसिकेषु कवित्व निवेदनम् शिरसि मा लिख मा लिख मा लिख ||

"My dear Lord Brahma, Please write all other punishments for any sins on my forehead to your full contentment. I have no objections or complaints about them. But please spare me from one greatest punishment - the one of reciting my poems before those who are incapable of understanding their content and finer points.  Do not punish me with this please, please, please!"