Last night went to see the Ramayana play that the Mount Madonna School puts on every year. Seriously, it’s an amazing show! The costumes alone are worth the admission price. The kids do a fine job (as must the adults who direct, produce and volunteer to make it happen) and I am really touched by the story of the play itself. It’s a major epic from India, about Ram and Sita, who are married and deeply in love and about Hanuman, the monkey-god.
The basic story line: Ram is banished by his father, the king, to live for 14 years in the dangerous jungle. The king dies of grief, for he did not want to banish Ram, but is manipulated into it by one of his wives (not Ram’s mother, obviously). Ram is actually Vishnu, god of creation, incarnate (but he does not know he is this avatar). Sita, and Ram’s brother, Lakshmana, insist on going with Ram into the forest because of their intense devotion to him. While they are there, the demon-king kidnaps Sita and holds her captive on his island kingdom. Hanuman and a band of warrior monkeys are sent by the monkey king to find Sita, and Hanuman is able to leap 800 miles across the ocean to find her in captivity on the demon’s island. Adventures ensue, but eventually Hanuman is able to let Sita know Ram is coming, then he returns to Ram, tells him where Sita is, and Ram and his army of monkeys sails to the island. An epic battle takes place, and Ram finally kills the demon. As the demon is dying, he realizes that he has acted outside of what is right, and he asks Ram to forgive him. Ram does so. Ram and Sita are reunited, and great joy comes to pass. The whole story is narrated by Shiva (the destroyer god) and Parvati (by the way, my sanskrit name name, Uma, is another name for Parvati). There are big musical numbers and songs, battles, hand combat scenes and so on. Live musicians accompany the whole show.
So, what was amazing for me about the production?
1. EPIC 3 hour long production, with incredible costumes that include some large puppet-like monsters, a dragon, and literally 100’s (1000’s??) of costumes. Apparently most have been made by hand in years past and are used each year, fitted to the student actors.
2. Mount Madonna School puts this on each year. Most of the kids get to be small forest animals and such in their younger years, and then eventually as they grow older get to do the speaking and singing parts. What a cool thing for them to participate in.
3. The theater was down in San Jose – at the Mexican Heritage Center – a beautiful place.
4. Just the sheer effort of directing and teaching all these kids their different parts and dances over the many months of rehearsal and production!
5. Somehow I really felt the love between Sita and Ram, and between Shiva and Parvati, it seemed to transcend the ability of the young actors.
6. I also really felt moved by the demon king recognizing his folly, and asking for forgiveness, and by Ram, when he swiftly gives it. It is the same thing I feel when I think of the story of Jesus dying on the cross and saying “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I so prefer forgiveness to revenge.
Okay, that’s my report from Mount Madonna Center. The weather continues to be not too hot (for now) and beautiful. My thumb is slowly healing and the doctor released me for limited use of it. So it looks like they may let me do a bit of docent work this weekend at the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple here. More about that later!