Saturday, December 06, 2014


Vishnu is with us, preserving our sanity


There is little to say about this show and this music. It has to be seen and listened to for it to be enjoyed, not spoken about or read about.

If you want the full tale, the Ramayana, you will easily find it in full on in plain text, on in PDF, or ebook format, and on in plain text. You can always buy a copy from any book vendor. You may then have illustrations.

The story, legend or mythological tale is extremely complex and it deals with the main Hindu gods – and their demons too – and how they got mixed in human history by descending on earth under the appearance of human beings: Vishnu seems to have been particularly attracted by the adventure. You will also discover how monkeys and human beings are competing at controlling this earth. But the story itself is so complex that it is not easy to summarize it.

Let’s say violence, love, domination, exploitation and liberation, war ane eventually peace are all mixed up marvelously. But what makes this show special is of course first of all the “dalang” or the story teller. He is a tremendous actor who can cover all the characters, including the monkeys, and I must say his vocal range is amazing including all kinds of grunts and woofs, clicks and snarls, groans and growl, and other glottal noises you can imagine. I am pretty sure he has a monkey in his family, and as an ancestor it must be who provided him with the necessary art.

When you have the “dalang” well settled in you ears you can move to the music. Percussions, pipes and many other instruments I guess produce a music that can be as soft as a breeze in spring now and then and as violent as a storm, a tempest or a blizzard at other moments. The musicians are numerous and flexible and they do not really have one tone or one style. They can create various atmospheres and different tensions or a mesmerizing soft and sweet musical or rhythmic fabric that wraps you up into hypnosis and enjoyment. This music knows everything about orgasmic pleasure and your ears become reverberating gothic naves dug out in the rock of a cliff, like the one in Saint Emilion, France

And now and then the “dalang” finds some support from the musicians who become a choir and there too the effect is superb. You must keep in mind that you only have men on the stage and that is important with the characters. Any actor is able to play any part, man, woman, eagle, monkeys, gods or demons. The voice is anyway provided by the “dalang” and eventually by the choir when necessary, and the actors are only strutting on the stage, dancing, prancing, gesticulating or whatever can characterize the characters they impersonate. They wear masks of course to represent who or what they are.

The costumes are a deluge of colorful fabric, embroidered silk, feathers and plumes, fur and tulle. The texture of these costumes and the colors of the various materials will fascinate your eyes all along, end yet the show will surprise you with the final fifteen minute long Kècak, the symbolic battle and redemption, with all the musicians and actors in war attire, or rather only wearing something like a generous loincloth, divided in two camps for the battle and then working on concentric circular figures for the redemption. They have no musical instruments any more. The “dalang” has gone truant and the musicians and actors are a big choir with two groups again, those who give the basic rhythm and those who sing words or some rhythmic hammering sounds now and then. And when they all stop one voice can start an incantation alone with the choir that will pick the incantation from him and develop it to the point when they will give it back to one or two soloists.

And you will of course love the ballet going along with this music, singing, song, prayer, in fact all along from beginning to end.

Though it is from a very distant and different culture than ours you will be captured by the charm of it, and I mean the charm any magic philter has to entirely wrap you up like a mummy with unbreakable links, ropes, ties or bonds and you will feel in you the need for it to go on for ever, for a long time, till tomorrow and beyond.

How can we enjoy it forever? Simple. The CD that goes along with the DVD will give you the music and you just set the CD on repeat and replay in a loop, and you will be able to just dissolve yourself into that cosmic pith and marrow that can lure your mind into eternity.

“This is the great first poem blessed and glorious, which gives long life to men and victory to kings, the poem which Válmíki made. He who listens to this wondrous tale of Ráma unwearied in action shall be absolved from all his sins. By listening to the deeds of Ráma he who wishes for sons shall obtain, his heart's desire, and to him who longs for riches shall riches be given. The virgin who asks for a husband shall obtain a husband suited to her mind, and shall meet again her dear kinsfolk who are far away. They who hear this poem which Válmíki made shall obtain all their desires and all their prayers shall be fulfilled.”

And let’s conclude with the final eight lines in Ralph T. H. Griffith, M. A.’s translation (1870-74):

No widow mourned her murdered mate,
No house was ever desolate.
The happy land no murrain knew,
The flocks and herds increased and grew.
The earth her kindly fruits supplied,
No harvest failed, no children died.
Unknown were want, disease, and crime:
So calm, so happy was the time. 


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