Well, that evening of 30th September 2014 was made more memorable by the stupendous performance by Padmashree awarded Kathak diva Shovana Narayan and the Grammy winning Buddhist monks of the Palpung Sherabling seat. The scenes from the life of Buddha were such beautifully portrayed that without words the essence of Buddhism was conveyed. The show was beautifully choreographed by Shovana jee herself
Ashoka and the Kalinga war
This part of the play showcased how Ashoka had the feeling of reclusion after killing so many people in the Kalinga war. The act beautifully demonstrated how Ashoka followed the path of Buddha thereafter.
Kisa and the mustard Seeds
During Buddha’s time, there lived a woman named Kisa Gotami. She married young and gave birth to a son. One day, the baby fell sick and died soon after. Kisa Gotami loved her son greatly and refused to believe that her son was dead. She carried the body of her son around her village, asking if there was anyone who can bring her son back to life.
The villagers all saw that the son was already dead and there was nothing that could be done. They advised her to accept his death and make arrangements for the funeral.
In great grief, she fell upon her knees and clutched her son’s body close to her body. She kept uttering for her son to wake up.
A village elder took pity on her and suggested to her to consult the Buddha.
“Kisa Gotami. We cannot help you. But you should go to the Buddha. Maybe he can bring your son back to life!”
Kisa Gotami was extremely excited upon hearing the elder’s words. She immediately went to the Buddha’s residence and pleaded for him to bring her son back to life.
“Kisa Gotami, I have a way to bring your son back to life.”
“My Lord, I will do anything to bring my son back”
“If that is the case, then I need you to find me something. Bring me a mustard seed but it must be taken from a house where no one residing in the house has ever lost a family member. Bring this seed back to me and your son will come back to life.”
Having great faith in the Buddha’s promise, Kisa Gotami went from house to house, trying to find the mustard seed.
At the first house, a young woman offered to give her some mustard seeds. But when Kisa Gotami asked if she had ever lost a family member to death, the young women said her grandmother died a few months ago.
Kisa Gotami thanked the young woman and explained why the mustard seeds did not fulfill the Buddha’s requirements.
She moved on to the 2nd house. A husband died a few years. The 3rd house lost an uncle and the 4th house lost an aunt. She kept moving from house to house but the answer was all the same – every house had lost a family member to death.
Kisa Gotami finally came to realise that there is no one in the world who had never lost a family member to death. She now understood that death is inevitable and a natural part of life.
Putting aside her grief, she buried her son in the forest. Shen then returned to the Buddha and became his follower.
Sujata and milk Rice
Thereafter there was a beautiful presentation of this small girl called Sujata who served Buddha with Milk Rice when he was meditating.
Apart from this there were a few questions i asked from Shovana mam, answers to which are posted below for reference.
- In initial scene, few Buddhist monks moved out of stage while 4 of them remained on the stage when they were witnessing the kathak dance performance being in their meditative state. What was the significance of the 4 monks moving out?
Initially when we are born, the good (represented by the Monks) and human emotions in its various colours(represented by the Kathaks) are evenly balanced. But slowly, a situation comes when ego gets the better of us. Knowingly the good, sensitive aspects are crushed or lost sight of. In some it happens quickly, in others slowly. This was shown by the Kathaks where their ego looms large and crushes the good within. That is why the Monks are shown as being pushed out or the good sensitive part being cloaked by overwhelming ego.
It is this overwhelming ego that leads to vices like lust for power – of which Emperor Ashoka is one of the biggest examples. Here was a person, drunk with ego and an overwhelming lust for power that he wrecked havoc.This was shown immediately after the Kathaks show that ego had got the better of them.
- During the scene portraying the deaths in the Kalinga war, post the death of the soldiers and when the weeping wives were being shown in severe trauma, suddenly the corpses rose and gave a shock to the wives. Did this signify the soul moving towards the heavenly abode, but why the physical bodies rose? I could comprehend the significance
The rising of the corpses indicated that what Ashoka’s action had left behind was only a sea of corpses signifying reign of NO EMOTION for that is what a dead body signifies. Would we not get scared when faced with someone that has no emotion at all? And with the death of all that is good and sensitive it is but a dance of corpses, represented by the Skeleton dance (performed by the Buddhist Monks).
Because of this Emperor Ashoka thinks to himself: “Post Kalinga war I stand alone on this battle field, surrounded by flowing rivers of blood and grotesque corpses. Am I Emperor of a domain of grotesque corpses and rivers of blood?”
(Incidentally, the “Kankaal Dance” is part of Buddhist Monks tradition).
- Similarly after the corpses robbed in their white clothes moved out of the stage, the ghostly dressed artists came who sort of danced on the tunes of the Buddhist monks. What was the significance of this?
This has been answered in the previous question.
- During the showcase of the act of “Sujata and Milk rice” Sujata was witnessing many changes in weather,, heavy rains , rain storms etc. What was the significance of these. Was this to portray the time passing on.. Also the divine yellow light symbolizing Shakyamuni Gautama Buddha changed the position from rightmost of the stage to leftmost in the semicircular path. What did this signify?
Anyone who is a little familiar with Buddha’s life, would be aware that after Siddhartha Gautam (ie Buddha to be) left his home, in order to understand the reason for suffering, disease, old age, death in life, he went to Bodh Gaya and meditated there for several months practicing austerities, without even taking a morsel of food, even though he was reduced to skin and bones. It is stated that he thought to himself:
“My body may shrivel up, my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve,but my body will not move from this seat until I have attained Enlightenment,so difficult to get in the course of many kalpas”.
Thus the passing of several ‘kalpas’, of time was shown through changes of ragas signifying passing of seasons.
In fact, during his meditation, he once overheard a musician telling his students that “If the string is too tight, it will snap. If it is too loose, it will not play.” It is this simple statement that led to his realization or awakening of the the transcendental truth of life and Siddhartha then knew what he wanted. He realized that life had to be accepted in all its hues. However one should not be bound by worldly desires and one should pursue a middle path or the perfect balance. Starving to death wasn’t the answer and hence he took a bowl of rice from the village girl, Sujata.
The light symbolized Siddhartha. He gets up and moves after his enlightenment’ (or inner awakening). This was symbolized by the moving light. Sujata sees him a short while later and then asks him the reason to which he explains his realization of the transcendental truth and that since starving to death was not the answer, he then accepted the first bowl of milk rice from Sujata.
Why the light was used symbolically: This was so because the Buddhist Monks are not comfortable with a person being shown as Buddha (especially when they are involved – as they were part of this production). Hence symbolism through light was used.
(posting this post too late as just found that it was lying in my draft posts unattended. So please pardon for the late posting)