A magnificent Ramayana in New York  
- Ushadevi 
September 7, 2005 

On July 30, 2005, the East-West School of Dance at Ananda Ashram, Monroe, New York presented a magnificent production filled with artistry of all kinds, from the stage sets, including that of the beautiful ten-head masks for Ravana, to the very colorful costumes of the performers and their make-up. The stage, located on the lake at the Ashram, was filled with enchanting Indian dances. The ancient epic story was enacted with mostly lay actors from the Ashram; who performed with great professionalism, because their hearts were enraptured by the story, and the tutelage of the distinguished choreographer and master teacher Pandit Satya Narayana Charka. 

The sacredness of the Ramayana was blessed with the presence and singing of the Hindu Sadhu (ascetic) and Sakshatkar (master of sacred Vedic scriptures) and a recognized authority on the Ramayana. This was Swami Paramhansa Ram Krishna Das, also known as Milk Baba and Ramayena one who awakens the power and secret inner teachings of RAM.  On stage also was Shyamdas, who has recorded numerous CD's, studied classical Dhrupad music and has written about devotion to Shri Krishna and the path of grace. 

The evening was ended with a feast of Indian food, a gift from the Indian community and Ananda Ashram. Next July 2006 is another performance of the Ramayana, and everyone is invited to come. Here is a synopsis of what is to be seen ~  

The ideas of the human family are few, as is apparent from the story of literature of widely different nations. Thus the epic Ramayana ranks in Hindu literature with that of the Greek, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The author was said to be the famous poet Valmiki and the poem consists of twenty-four thousand verses, and the story of it is evidently founded on fact. The scene of the poem is laid in the city of Ayodhya, the modern Oudh, which was described as a place of beauty, health and prosperity. 'In by-gone ages built and planned; by sainted Manu's princely hand.' In the splendid palace of the Rajah lives Dasaratha, mourning in childlessness. He is one of the princes descended from the Sun dynasty, and his line now threatens to become extinct. He appeals to the gods with a great sacrifice. The rites are performed with unparalleled magnificence, and, at the close of the ceremony, the high priest declares to the king 'Four sons, O Monarch shall be thine, Upholders of the royal line.' Among the offspring is Rama, a prince of heroic character. Displaced as rightful heir to his father's throne, Rama goes into exile, accompanied by Sita and by his brother Lakshmana. His wife Sita is carried off by the demon Ravana, who had assumed the form of a humble ascetic, in order to gain access to her. Ravana had ten heads. She is carried in his chariot to Lanka, an island, located on Trikuta Mountain.  By the assistance of a large army of monkeys and bears under the leadership of Hanuman, Rama marches against Lanka. The god Indra sends his own chariot down from heaven to Rama, who mounts it, and defeats Ravana in a single combat with his divine weapon, the Brahmastra, upon which Sita is restored to her husband. Through magic and magical medicine, the monkey general Hanuman brings four miracle herbs, which revive Laksmana and the dead monkeys. 

The Ramayana, although basically a secular work, incorporates much of the sacred Vedic material. Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and the monkey general Hanuman are widely revered as ideals of princely heroism and dutyful rulership for peace and prosperity, wifely and brotherly devotion, and loyal service, respectively. Rama is considered the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu... and reciting the Ramayana is a deep spiritual act of devotion.  

Ushadevi is a scholar and writer and has studied Indian sacred Vedic scriptures for many years.