Backstage Sneak Peek: The Loot

As we head out of standard rehearsals and towards tech, we’re beginning to layer in more props and elements of “magic” into our work, as the designers refine them. Recently, we added Shiv’s pile of loot, assembled by Props Designer Liz Panneton, to the mix. Over the course of the play, Shiv’s raft/bed accumulates the detritus of her past: symbols of the psychic residue of post-colonialism, and an inheritance from her father. The trick is that each item is free-standing, and has to be balanced and constructed into a solid towering pile.

How do we do this?

With a loot map, of course.

loot map

(Some items are placeholders, but each gets added to the pile in the order that it’s numbered.)

Now just imagine it taller, and a lot shinier.

Saris Drying in the Sun

SHIV:  I have this childhood memory of saris drying on a beach. Longer sheets, more colorful, but that same feeling… of wind catching sails… My mother used to take us down to the water, we’d play while she dried her saris in the sun with all her friends, long narrow swathes of shining silk as far as the eye could see.


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“We are fighting kites.”

BAPU: Should we reel in our ugly kite, or cut it? It’s probably against the rules here to cut the string, it would disrupt all those other pretty store-bought kites. It is your decision, what do you want to do? Come now, Shivratri. We’re not dainty little decorative kites, you and me. We are fighting kites. What do you say?

The fighting kite serves as a touchstone image for Shiv’s journey throughout the play. Kite battles are a popular sport across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, as well as areas of Brazil, Vietnam, and Korea. Made of lightweight paper, their strings are coated with a paste of rice flour and ground glass, making them sharp enough to damage and fell competitors’ kites.

Check out the images of kites and kite festivals, below, as well as a great documentary short from the NYT about the migration of the fighting kite to America.

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The Topography of the World

In the SHIV design process, we’re coming back again and again to this passage, below, as a guidestar for the aesthetic world of the play.

SHIV: My father grew up in Punjab. Before the green revolution when it was all sand as far as the eye could see. He’d tell this story about how some nights it would storm, you could hear the wind and sand whipping against the village from every side. When you woke in the morning, the land had shifted in the night. It was like the topography of the world had changed, familiar hills and valleys gone, new ones have appeared out of nowhere. You stayed in one place, but the map of the world changed. And you had to go out and discover, and map, the world anew. For yourself.

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A Primer on Hinduism

We’re offering here a very basic primer on the structures and central deities of Hinduism.

Hinduism has no one central set of religious rules, practices, or a single faith leader — rather, it might be fair to say that there are loosely organized sects and as many accepted methods of practice as there are adherents. One commonly held organizing principle, however, is that of the Trimurti, or Hindu Trinity. It’s comprised of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva — the same three deities who serve as the touchpoints for the Trilogy. Learn more about them in the primer, below.


A Primer on Post-Colonialism

Playwright Aditi Kapil talks about the Trilogy as a whole as an immigrant’s encounter with the psychic residue of post-colonialism. These themes are most explicit in BRAHMAN/I and SHIV, but serve as a unifying thread weaving all three plays together.

Below, find a basic primer on the major ideas of post-colonialism as they appear in the Trilogy. This is just a jumping off point to larger and more detailed conversations in the rehearsal hall.


A Primer on Modernism

Here’s a primer on Modernism to help frame SHIV in particular, and the Trilogy in general.

In SHIV, Bapu is a struggling “science fiction modernist” poet, whose work has trouble translating from Punjabi into English.

One of my favorite excerpts from the play…

SHIV: We’ll take my ship.
GERARD: Yours?
SHIV:  (re. the mattress) Get on.
GERARD: Ok… funny ship…
SHIV: It’s modernist. No structure, no rhyme, and the reviews are suboptimal.
GERARD Are you sure it’ll float?

Vishnu, the Sleeper

Kalki: “I’m sleepy. […] You ever dream? Like things that happened, but they didn’t really? And then you start to lose track of what’s real and what’s something else…”


Tonight in rehearsal, we explored the role of Vishnu as sleeping creator. The excerpt below is long, but we really like how it spins the tale of the creation of the worlds by means of Vishnu’s body and dreams. The text below is from an e-book on Hinduism and ecology. (More can be found HERE.)

But why is Vishnu sleeping? Why is he not taking part in the world he has made? To understand this we must hear the Hindu story of creation, as told in the Puranas. Creation does not happen only once. As the cycle of seasons endlessly repeats itself, Vishnu creates the world of matter and withdraws it into his existence time after time.

This is how he creates.

There exists an eternal realm of light, stretching in all directions for infinity. As the light of this world comes from the sun, so the brilliance of that spiritual sky comes from the dazzling rays shining from the personal form of God. That energy of God, called brahman, is the basis of creation.

In one corner of that never-ending sky, Vishnu, the lord of all beings, created a cloud. In its shadow he brought into being a great ocean. The water of that ocean was quite unlike the water of this world. It is from that ocean that this world was made, so it is called the waters of creation. In the coolness of its waters Vishnu lay down to sleep. While he slept, submerged in the water, he began to breathe deep, regular breaths. Time came into being. Aeons passed.

Vishnu-BhagawanThen came sound, the basis of the world. From sound came ether and the sense of hearing. The combination of ether and the sense of hearing created texture, which in turn produced air and the sense of touch. The mixing of air and the sense of touch created form, from which came fire and the sense of sight. The combination of fire and the sense of sight created flavour, which in turn produced water and the sense of taste. By the mixture of water and the sense of taste odour was created, and from it came earth and the sense of smell. Together these elements made up the ingredients for creation.

The Vedic scriptures describe how each element was created and how they are all related, one to another. They show how the senses of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling are each related to a particular element and how all are woven together to form a living world where all the parts depend on each other. If a disturbance is made in one part of this web its balance will be upset and a disturbance will be caused somewhere else. This disturbance may not just be in the outside world, but also in the internal health of our own body and senses. This kind of effect can be seen in the twentieth century in the damage done to nature and to our own health by the continued industrial exploitation of the environment.

With his outward breath Vishnu scattered clouds of tiny bubbles into the waters, and every time he breathed in they were sucked back inside him. Each of these bubbles, which seemed so small in comparison with his gigantic sleeping form, grew into an entire universe like ours, whose lifespan was equal to a single breath of Vishnu. All these universes were clustered around the form of Vishnu like foam in the ocean.

When all the elements of matter were present, Vishnu expanded himself and entered each universe, bringing it to life by filling it with souls, tiny particles of his own spiritual nature. These souls were filled with desires for enjoying the world. To fulfil their desires they needed material bodies. So began the second phase of creation.

From Vishnu inside each universe Brahma was born. Brahma created the planets and stars and all the thousands of demigods, each of whom was given charge of a particular part of the cosmic order. Indra was given the rain, Vayu the wind, Surya the sun, Candra the moon and Varuna the waters. Goddess Bhumi was given the earth.

Brahma and the demigods created the myriad life-forms of the universe, among them human beings. The demigods were given the power to grant great blessings to their worshippers. For Hindus these demigods are not just mythical figures. They are the powers behind the elements of the natural world such as wind, rain and the earth itself. These elements are usually taken for granted as being automatic forces working as part of a complex machine, but really they are under the higher control of the demigods. Even the earth planet itself is controlled, by Bhumi, and therefore Hindus always treat the earth with great respect, considering her as their mother who gave them life and without whom they would die. However, powerful though the demigods are, behind them lies Vishnu, and it is really he who creates and controls all. Without him they can do nothing.

It is said that the oceans are Vishnu’s waist, the hills and mountains are his bones, the clouds are the hairs on his head and the air is his breathing. The rivers are his veins, the trees are the hairs on his body, the sun and moon are his two eyes and the passage of day and night is the moving of his eyelids. In the words of the Bhagavad Gita:

“Everything rests on me as pearls are strung on a thread. I am the original fragrance of the earth. I am the taste in water. I am the heat in fire and the sound in space. I am the light of the sun and moon and the life of all that lives.”

Once the world came to life, filled with numberless living beings, Vishnu expanded himself into a third form and entered the hearts of all beings to sit alongside each individual soul as the Supersoul.

The individual soul, called the atma, is the basis of life. By its presence as the self, it gives energy to the body. The world is thus a combination of matter and spirit, innumerable life forms and the soul within them. When the soul leaves one body, that body dies. The soul then enters another body, like an actor changing clothes. Moving from body to body in search of happiness, it passes through all forms of life, from insect to demigod. Materially these life-forms are not of the same importance, but spiritually they are equal because they are all coverings for the soul. It is this soul that Vishnu accompanies in the heart of each being as the Supersoul.

The Mundaka Upanishad gives a simple allegory for understanding the Supersoul. There are two birds sitting on the branch of a tree. One bird is tasting the fruits of the tree, some bitter, some sweet. The other bird is a friend, watching the first bird. The friend is patiently waiting for the first bird to turn to him and share his friendship, but the first bird is unaware of his presence. The tree is the body, the bird who tastes its fruits is the individual soul, and the friendly bird is the Supersoul – Vishnu – who offers his protection, friendship and love.

For Hindus, this world is not made of inanimate matter, to be wasted and exploited for selfish ends. When they see the sunrise and feel its scorching heat, when they taste water or smell the earth in the monsoon rains, they are reminded of Vishnu. Vishnu is both inside it and outside this world, and it cannot be separated from him. All is sacred, God-given and mystically created. It all came from Vishnu and it will all return to him in the end.

Although Vishnu is sleeping in the ocean of creation he is not unaware of the actions of his offspring, the tiny souls. In their hearts he is following them as they journey through the vastness of time and space. Waiting. Watching.

“Everywhere are his hands and legs, his eyes, heads and faces. His ears are everywhere. He knows all things, past, present and future. He also knows all beings. But no one knows him.”

He knows all beings, but they do not know him. It is they who are unaware of him. That is why he is sleeping. It is really not he who sleeps, it is the souls of this world, who are asleep to him. He only waits for them to turn from the worldly tree and return to him and to their original home in the eternal world of light. That is another world, and another story.

Little Hindu Deities

Pixar animator Sanjay Patel has released an altogether delightful and informative book called “The Little Book of Hindu Deities, from the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow.” We’re totally digging Patel’s style, as well as the clear and compelling descriptions of all the gods and goddesses.

We’re highlighting the images from the Trimurti below, but we strongly recommend checking out the whole book, which also includes entries for each of the avatars of Vishnu.

Members of Company One’s artistic and production teams can access a full version of the book by visiting the “Research Sources” page in the “C1 BIZ” Menu above, or by clicking HERE.

Not a member of the team, and curious to see more?  Get a copy of the book HERE,