Surprise! I’m able to write the third post about the Amritapuri Christmas play after all. Enjoy!
As I’ve mentioned before, this year’s Christmas musical was about the nativity story as told by a 9 year old child named Grace. Grace was living in a school for girls. She is the second child from the left in the first photo below. She is wearing a blue dress.
In many Indian plays, the actors don’t speak or sing, they lip sync. The musicians and people singing or speaking for the actors are out of sight. In this play, they were sitting on the left side of the stage.
The children were amazing. They had practiced their roles so thoroughly that you couldn’t tell they weren’t saying anything.
In Grace’s version of the nativity story, one of the wise men came from Africa. She named him Tsabo Babatunde. Tsabo was very, very old. When he received God’s direction to follow the star to Bethlehem, so that he could welcome another great soul to the world, he obeyed.
Tsabo was able to talk to animals, and they talked to him. One of the songs in the musical was Come Awake Africa.
[Note: You can enlarge the photos in this post by clicking on the photo galleries. To hear the songs, click on the audiofiles.]
Joseph and Mary sang and danced with their friends before they traveled to Bethlehem.
One of the most intense scenes of the play occurred when it was time for Mary to give birth and no one would give them the couple a place to stay. I think you will get a sense of the intensity by listening to the song. I still get goose bumps when I hear it.
An angel was present during the nativity scene. As you look at the photos and listen to the music know that she was 30-40 feet above the floor!
One of the most touching scenes was near the end when Mary let Grace hold baby Jesus.
Throughout his journey, Tsabo had visions of what the adult Jesus would do in his life. Those visions were enacted. The photo below is from one of the last scenes in the play when Jesus was talking about love.
It was a wonderful musical. I hope you were able to get a sense of that from the photos and songs in this post.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
The Christmas play was last night and it was as wonderful as I expected it to be. Every year I think the musicals can’t get any better, and then they do.
The title of this year’s musical was Walking Beside Us. It was the nativity story as told by a young child living at the Rosenberg School for Girls. It will be a while before I will have access to the photos from the play but I will share a video clip of part of a scene from one of the very early practices now. I think it will give you a sense of what the play was like.
The child who was telling the story of Jesus’ birth decided that one of the wise men was from Africa. In this video clip the woman who plays that wise man (in the play she is a man) is dancing with many types of animals. You will also see her teaching the animals how to do African dance.
I look forward to sharing photos from the play itself so that you can see what the costumes looked like when they were finished.
It is either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day where all of you live, so I will end this post by saying “Merry Christmas!”
I love watching the path my mind takes when I am determining what song to use for the Song Lyric Sunday challenge. I start by thinking about what songs would address the theme for the week, but I often don’t end up there.
This week the theme was protest songs. The song I used for my second week of doing this challenge was We Shall Overcome so I considered some of the 60’s protest songs. But then my mind went a different direction. I thought about two of the Blues songs my son Sreejit wrote some years back. I listened to them both, but as I was considering them, another song came to mind.
My daughter Chaitanya and my son Sreejit live at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram in Kerala, India. People for all religions come to Amma, and all religions are respected. For the last seven or eight years my son and daughter have been very instrumental in creating the Christmas play that is performed on Christmas Eve each year. Chaitanya writes and directs the plays and Sreejit and his friends compose most of the tunes. The plays are in the style of Broadway musicals.
The particular play that came to my mind was performed in 2012 and was titled God is Able. The setting was a Southern style Gospel church. Sreejit was the preacher! The story line covered the stories of Moses leading the Jews to the promised land, Rachael being healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a fictional account of the heart of an angry store keeper being healed. I never will forget the moment in the play when the stage doors opened and our sparkling “Gospel Choir” became visible. It seemed like everyone in the auditorium did a collective gasp. Part of the reason I remember the gasp and the thunderous applause and shouts that followed our song so well is that I was part of the choir!!!
The song I have chosen is Dear God. The tune was written by Sreejit and the lyrics by Chaitanya. It is not a protest song but it is a song that is very relevant to times of darkness which is often what proceeds protest.
The mp3 recording and the lyrics are below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I still do!
When you feel like darkness has you bound And you can’t see any way to get out There’s a power which surrounds us all Through God anything is possible
Never fear Never let your doubts draw near With courage face all that comes Put your trust into God’s arms He’ll protect you from all harm His love will carry you on through
Dear God, hold us tight never let us leave thy sight Dear God, fill our soul with your love make us whole
Sreejit singing above the choir:
God is able to calm the wild storm God is able to make the weak strong God is able to bring change within God is able to do all things
In an earlier post, I shared pictures of the actors and scenes from this year’s Amritapuri Christmas play, “Blessed Art Thou.” In this one, I will focus more on the musicians and vocalists. Their work was magnificent.
In many, if not most, of the plays in Amritapuri, the musicians and vocalists are off stage. The actors are actually lip syncing when they appear to be speaking. They do such a good job of lip syncing many who watch the play don’t realize that they aren’t speaking, unless they know that this practice is traditional in Indian dramas.
Sreejit coordinates the group of musicians and vocalists. He and his musician friends start writing tunes as soon as one year’s play is over; long before they know what the next year’s play will be about. They write many tunes during the year but only a small fraction of them become part of the production.
Here are some of my favorite songs from this year’s play. Two of the tunes are original and two aren’t.
Part of this song is in Hebrew. It is traditionally sung in Jewish homes on the Sabbath. I think it is so beautiful.
My favorite song in this play is “Each and Every Night.” Mary, mother of Jesus, is singing about how hard it is for her, as a mother, to wait for Jesus to come home again.
The John the Baptist song was written and sung by Puneet Gabriel McCorrison. He is the person on the right side of the photo at the top of the post.
This music and song is about the 40 days and 40 nights that Satan tempted Jesus. If you listen closely you will hear both the voice of Satan and the voice of Jesus. Sreejit is the voice of Satan! He is also in the photo at the top of the post, sitting on the left side. During the play, Sreejit played the harmonium and was the voice for both Goliath and Satan.
While there were many other songs in the performance, I believe these four will give you a good sense of how much the musicians and vocalists contributed to the play’s success!
New Year’s Eve
I was super busy on December 31. I left my room at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t make it back there, except for a few minutes, until 8:30 p.m. By then, I was so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I knew the New Year’s Eve events would last until around 1:30 a.m., so decided to get some rest.
I slept from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. When I woke up, I could tell that the entertainment portion of the evening program had already begun. I arrived at the auditorium in time to see a group led by Sashwat, an Amrita TV camera man. Two or three years ago he had surprised so many ashram residents by doing a rap performance on New Year’s Eve. This year, I sat on a table to the side of the hall and was able to see well. The singers and musicians were all sitting on the floor, as is typical in India. At one point a member of the group stood up and led several rap songs. He was the same man I mentioned in an earlier post, the one who practices Kung Fu moves on the beach! I was so surprised.
That group’s performance turned out to be the end of the entertainment program. Thursday was a darshan day and Amma continued to give hugs until just before midnight. She then led a meditation and a Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (May all beings in the world be happy) chant. Next came her New Year’s message. Amma talked about a variety of topics. Among them were 1) welcoming the new year with joy and alertness, 2) compassion, 3) facing obstacles and 4) protecting nature’s harmony. You can read excerpts from her speech at: http://www.amritapuri.org/50825/16-newyear.aum.
Afterwards, Amma led several beautiful bhajans (devotional songs) and then did a Badaga dance. The crowd loved it all. The picture below was taken after one of the more rousing songs.
Following the bhajans, Amma served payasam (sweet pudding) to the thousands of people in the hall. She poured the pudding into cups and they were handed down from the stage on trays. Devotees then passed the cups of pudding to the people behind them until everyone had one. (Some of the brahmacharis also helped pour the payasam.)
After that, Amma left the hall and the devotees began to clean up. What a wonderful New Year’s Eve it had been.
New Year’s Day
Each year, about a week after the play, the cast get together to watch the newly created play video. It is always so much fun to watch it as a group. This year the viewing was on New Year’s Day and, as always, there was lots of laughter and applause.
That evening I went to the beach to meditate with Amma. On the way, I noticed one of the devotees who often represents the ashram was escorting a man and woman to the meditation. A young woman was walking nearby and when she saw the male visitor her jaw dropped in amazement. She came up to him and said she was a BIG fan of his. She turned around saying she couldn’t wait to tell her mother he was there.
I had no idea who he was but was definitely intrigued. Later I found out it was Russell Brand. I rarely see movies or watch other kinds of shows so I didn’t know anything about him. When I did an internet search, I discovered he is a British comedian, actor, and activist. I also learned he wrote an article about Amma last year so I looked that up as well. I was impressed with what he wrote. Many of his words were funny, but a lot of the things he wrote about Amma were profound. If you want to read his article you can find it at: https://web.facebook.com/RussellBrand/posts/10152650768708177
Time with Amma
In my last post, I had said I was going to make being with Amma a major priority for myself during the following week since she would be leaving on her North Kerala tour soon. While I did not always keep that commitment, I did make my decisions around use of time carefully. I think that was the life lesson, i.e. to make plans but be willing to let them go when it seems important to do so.
I received my last hug from Amma (for this trip) on December 30. I love it when Amma laughs while she hugs me. This time, it seemed like she held me for a long time while talking and laughing with the people who were nearby! What a great ending for that part of my trip
One of the two elevators in our building has been out of service for a week or so. On New Year’s day there were so many people waiting for the elevator, I decided to walk up the stairs. There are fifteen flights of stairs to climb in order to get to my room on the fifth floor.
As I trudged up the stairs, I remembered I was carrying something for a friend living on the NINETH floor! I would have waited for the next elevator if I had remembered that, but I decided to just keep going. The celebration is that when I reached the eighth floor my pulse was 103 beats per minute (per Fitbit). On the nineth floor it was 105. A few months ago my pulse was 150 when I leisurely walked around a flat track at a park near Seattle. As far as I was concerned, for it to stay that low after climbing up 27 flights of stairs was worthy of a big celebration! I am so much healthier than I was when I arrived in India five weeks ago.
There is more I could say, but I will save it for another post. I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season and wish you a very happy new year.
Amma says we should be a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice. She is really good at giving us opportunities to work on that lesson. Last year, since the play was on public darshan day, we expected to present it on the floor of the auditorium instead of on the stage where Amma is hugging people. The play was prepared with that plan in mind.
Then on December 20, Amma told us that she would stop darshan early so she could watch the play with us. That meant that the play would be on the stage. The backdrops were WAY too long for the stage and would all have to be altered. The stage was smaller than what had been designed for the auditorium so both the acting and dances had to be reworked to fit in the smaller space. It was amazing how well the cast worked together to make the changes.
The same thing happened this year, but in the opposite direction. We had prepared to present the play on the stage and three days before the event Amma said since the crowds were large, she would be giving darshan on the stage. Therefore, the play would be performed on the auditorium floor in front of her. That way she could watch it while she was hugging those who came to receive her blessing. Again many aspects of the play had to be reconfigured. The cast was used to this type of challenge by now, so they laughed and cheered and began to make the necessary alterations.
Once the costumes were made, they all had to be ironed. It took four for five people many hours over a three day period to accomplish that task. One day, I was irritated because the only iron available to me was so heavy. It reminded me of the heavy irons from centuries past, the ones that were placed on a stove to get hot. I learned to tip the iron onto the fabric rather than pick it up each time I moved it. Once I got my technique down, I discovered that it was actually the best iron of all of them. It was so heavy it seemed like it flattened many of the wrinkles through its weight! It was a good lesson in remembering that there is a lot I don’t know and my judgments may be wrong.
The day of the play finally arrived. The last rehearsals had gone well and everyone was ready.
There is only one story in the Bible about Jesus as a child. This play was about what Jesus might have been like when he was growing up, as well as what it might have been like to be his parents, siblings or friends. It also contained scenes about John the Baptist and about the 40 days and nights Jesus was tempted by Satan. While Jesus is known as a peacemaker, he also challenged the traditional religious teachings, so that area was addressed as well.
At one point in the play, Joseph told the children the story of David and Goliath. Our Goliath was a 12 foot high puppet! A man was inside of the puppet carrying him on his shoulders. As I’m sure you can imagine, Goliath was a major attraction!
The play was absolutely wonderful. The singing, dancing and acting were remarkable. (You can click on any picture in the gallery to enlarge them all.)
Very late on Christmas Eve, big groups of Indians started arriving and on Christmas day the crowd was huge. That evening we went to the beach to meditate with Amma and the whole time we were there people continued to come. I have never seen that many people on the beach at one time.
At 6:15 or so we returned to the auditorium for bhajans (devotional singing). There were so many people that everyone couldn’t fit in the auditorium. It has been quite a while since I’ve seen the auditorium that full!
Play cast celebration
On Christmas day the play cast had a party. Devapriya and Chaitanya had prepared a funny skit. Goliath was part of it as well. Sreejit was Goliath’s voice. I took some pictures so you could see Goliath close up.
Morning prayers (archana)
I had started staying in my room during the morning prayers and reading one of the chants in Devanagari (Sanskrit) script during that time. At first I did that was because I had lost my archana book, and then because I wasn’t waking up in time to get to the temple before the prayers started. It was also a way for me to practice my Sanskrit. One day this week though I was awakened at 3:30 in morning, by the computer! I hadn’t logged out, but I had closed the cover and everything had turned off. I had left the internet stick inserted but it was off too. At 3:30, the computer started making noise. When I looked to see what was going on, there were lights flashing several feet around it. That had never happened before and I was mystified. It was as if the computer had turned itself on. I couldn’t go back to sleep so decided I was “supposed” to go to archana in the temple, and did.
December 26 was a challenging day for me. I was very triggered by several things that happened in the early morning. Soon thereafter, someone approached me and asked if I would like to take a picture of an insect. I went with them and was very intrigued by what I saw.
I chose to believe that being given the opportunity to see this creature, which I think was a very young praying mantis, was either a reward for weathering the challenges, or something to lift my spirits. Since that day ended with more triggering events, I was very glad when it was over.
A positive thing about the 26th was that we had two Tai Chi classes! I am so in love with that process. We’ve had two teachers working with us. Dave returned to Canada a few days ago and Stephanie will leave on January 2. I will miss learning from them but look forward to practicing what I have learned on my own, and hopefully will find another teacher when I get back to Seattle.
I can already feel changes in my body from doing it. It seems to me that my body is more relaxed, that my posture has improved and that I am looking straight in front of me instead of down. I look forward to seeing if it has any effect on my scoliosis. Most important though is that it brings me into a meditative state.
Time with Amma
I have been so busy since I’ve been here that I haven’t spent much time with Amma. She leaves January 5 on her South Kerala tour and I will be gone when she comes back to Amritapuri. I am going to make sure that I go to the beach meditations on Mondays and Fridays and will hand her prasad (the candy and ash she gives everyone she hugs) every darshan day!
I can’t believe that there are less than two weeks left in this trip. I wonder what other lessons and experiences will come my way before I leave.
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”-William Shakespeare