Tuesday, March 10, 2009


(This is part of a letter I wrote to Peter Lieberson when we were considering re-writing our opera, Ashoka's Dream.)

Perhaps we could shape the piece as something seen as one travels along a great river; river here as inseparable life and death. One River, and different beings, or each being in its different states, sees it momentarily, differently.

This river, like the instinct to sing itself, flows with the songs and stories of all those who live by it: their loves, their battles, their leisure, their work, their gods, their desires, their losses, their endurance, their loneliness. The river is a song of transformations and endless re-forming (centered in the story of Ashoka the first true king to embrace all such things.)

What makes me think like this just now is a verse by the most renowned Indian poet, Kalidasa in which he describes an audience listening to a recital of the Ramayana:

And the people sat and listened.
Enraptured, they listened.
Tears ran down their faces like pearls,
Like dew dripping from the forest leaves
In the stillness of a windless dawn.

Of course, such circumstances were not this time available to us. But perhaps, perhaps for now, we could make Ashoka as an echo from the future when it will come to have reverberated in its full expanse.

He walked out from his palace.
He left his splendid home.
He walked deep into the forest shadows.
He walked through reeds and swamps.
He came to the great river,
Radiant, enticing, imperious, vast.

And he looked silently
Upon the Ganges flowing through the three times:
Clear, with cool waves loved by sages,
Giving life and dharma to teachers and the places where they teach.

Song rose in his heart from a distant mountain spring.
He joined his hands in prayer.
He sang, and his song was like a life giving river
He sang, and the sky shone with his melodious voice.

“O you who are love,
In your clear waters apsaras play.
O Ganges of the gods, asuras and ghandarvas
Meandering through the endless sky,

O river of celestial lotuses,
Sacred river, roaring, quivering, smiling
With sparkling teeth of white foam,
Flowing unimpeded,
Curling like a young girl’s wind-blown hair;

O river of swirling whirlpools and peaceful ponds,
Crying river, roiled and unsettling;
Holy river where goddesses bathe
Amid white lotus clouds
And the plangent calls of swans and cranes;

You are garlanded with dark trees,
Brocaded with green lily pads,
Aflame with red water lilies,
Jeweled with gold and silver dancing light,
Powdered with pink pollen dust,
Blushing like a longing lover,
Suddenly you draw near, you touch, your whirl away,
You strike the dry land
And ten thousand pearls spray in the air
Rising, rising up in iridescent clouds.

In every spinning droplet,
The moments of our history,
The moments of time, our life and death,
Shine in the sky,
O pearl pure Ganges.

O pearl pure Ganges,
O river of milk,
O life of all,
O river of blood,
O love,
O ever-flowing one,
You carry off all sin,
All sorrow, all regret.”

( adapted, p.36 condensed Ramayana- P.Lal; Tarang Paperbacks, 1989)


And then one might see this from the Kathakali

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