Sahana Lakka (SL) is the mother of three Mount Madonna School students who have performed in the Ramayana for many years – since preschool! Sahana and her family have strong ties with India and visit their family there each year.
Compare/Contrast: What are the similarities between MMS’ production of the Ramayana and authentic Indian productions? What are some of the major differences?
SL: The Ramayana is an epic poem of India written by the ancient sage Valmiki and comprising some 24,000 verses. On the surface, it is the journey of the virtuous King Rama to heal a breach of social conduct. But for those who delve into the intrinsic philosophical depths of the Ramayana, there is an esoteric meaning to be found.
In the bygone times of India and in today’s rural India, the Ramayana is not only a religious ritual but also a source of entertainment to the common man. The Ramayana is enacted in various forms. In the South of India, it is told in the form of ‘Harikatha’ a composite art form. A narrator using a pair of cymbals, with the help of co-singers and a Mridangam (percussion instrument) accompanist narrates the story interspersed with songs, poetry, music, drama and dance.
In the North of India, the ‘Ramlila’ is the popular form of folk enactment, traditionally performed in makeshift open-air theaters at night, with local actors using colorful costumes, make-up, props and sets. Ramlila stretches for ten whole days before culminating in the festival of Dussehra.
Modern day India presents a glamorized version of the Ramayana through elaborate TV soap operas and movies. I have heard that Disney may even come up with its own version of the Ramayana.
Ramayana at MMS was inspired by Baba Hari Dass. It has its roots from the Ramlila tradition but has evolved into its own unique blend of the traditions of India and the western Broadway appeal to the audience. The story, directors, actors, music, songs, dance and costumes have each brought in their own cultural flavor to form a conglomeration of a one-of-a-kind production that has quite a broad appeal to diverse audiences. MMS’ Ramayana is a show that can be found nowhere else in the world.
What do your Indian friends think of you having your children in a school that supports a production of the Ramayana each year—what are their questions or comments?
SL: Our Indian friends, like our American friends, are stunned by the grandiosity of this production. It blows their mind when they remember the fact that this is only a school production. They stop short of comparing it to a professional Broadway show. First time Indian audiences are in awe that our children go to a school that is encompassing one of the most-revered Indian epics in an American setting. We bring to their attention that MMS is a secular and non-sectarian school that recognizes and teaches its students the best aspects of all the different world cultures during the course of the school year.
Is MMS’ commitment to staging this annual production important to you and your family? Why?
SL: The staging of MMS’ annual Ramayana production is important to not just us Indian families but also to the rest of the school community. The Ramayana is not seen as a separate cultural identity by the broader school community. All of the students identify it as their own. Their love and passion for it goes beyond cultural differences. This is a time when our entire school community comes together and weaves a unique story each year—and they have been doing so for decades.
What does it mean to your children—and is participating in the Ramayana significantly different than their participating in other school productions?
SL: Our children are conscious of the fact that the Ramayana is an enactment rooting from their own native culture and as a result, there definitely is an innate element of pride within them. But this individual element of pride diminishes in contrast with the common pride that they share with their friends during the course of this magical production that goes beyond cultural differences. They enjoy being a part of every MMS production but the Ramayana takes a special place in their hearts as it does with their friends as well.
How does this support your parenting? Your values?
SL: Moral codes and social conducts have been articulated by every known culture since time unknown in some form or the other. The Ramayana, while stemming from one such ancient culture of India, uses the common tale of love, duty and the battle between forces of evil and good to code an essay of the life of Rama who took the path of the ‘Eternal Laws of Nature’ (‘Sanatana Dharma’ in Sanskrit). To some, this epic poem is a recital as a part of religious rituals. To others, it’s a spiritual exploration of the symbolic and philosophical meaning of the characters and setting, relating to the virtues and vices which are a part of one’s individual self.
Our hope is that our children, while reveling in the joy of being a part of this wondrous product of showmanship, discover and apply the universal message of compassion and love towards individuals, family and the society at large. And that they learn the importance of unwavering adherence to and taking an uncompromising stand on ‘eternal moral values’—while courageously facing life’s adversities which come and go like passing clouds.