“Ain’t Nothing But A Cosmic Ocean….”

 

“… then a flash of light, and the cosmos unfolding, stars and planets and nebula ….”
— The Cop, THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI

 

What does the universe look like to you? A mobile of crystal spheres? A jester’s hat? The face of a blue-skinned god painted with blood-red lipstick? A fishbowl? A forbidden planet? And the heavier question — what is humanity’s place in it?

B., Shiv, Girls 1 and 2, and even tough-as-nails Kalki, all try to figure out their places in the world by looking to the cosmos. B. looks up to Galileo as a hero who refuses to believe that he is wrong about his convictions, while Shiv sails an sea made of stars to make sense of her past and take ownership of her future. Kalki — trapped in human form and longing for the cosmic ocean — shows the girls that the most awesome power comes from within oneself. She hangs out in Girl 2’s bedroom, decorated with ceiling-stuck glowstars, and compares it to sacred space: “Your room is deep. Your room is like where people go to pray. It’s a temple.” This theme of displacement is one of Aditi Kapil’s Easter eggs in the trilogy — almost none of the characters are sure of where they stand in a world that seems to demand the mathematical impossibility that all of us are #1.

Bapu and Shiv sail the cosmic ocean.

To feel displaced is to be human, Kapil seems to suggest, and Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time by “astrovisualist” Michael Benson backs up the outsider feelings of B., Shiv, and Kalki’s girl crew with a millenia’s worth of evidence.  The book features artists’ and scientists’ renderings of the universe going back centuries, and this review by Maria Popova gives a sneak peak into some of the illustrations, as well as links to further reading about Galileo, William Blake, and the history of miracles. Be sure to check it out and see if your vision of the cosmos matches up to a seventeenth-century Italian’s!

One of the drawings from Cosmigraphics.

Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation

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Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation is an exhibition currently running at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. — it showcases Indian-American culture, history and experiences. As reported by the BBC:

The curators from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center say it about the “history and contemporary experiences of Indian Americans as they have grown to be one of the more diverse and well-recognised communities in the United States”.

With a population of 2.8 million, Indian Americans are the third largest group among Asian Americans.

They are also among the wealthiest communities in the US, with a median annual household income of $88,000 (£52,900) compared with the national median of $49,800 (£29,900), according to one study.

And more than 70% of Indian American immigrants over 18 years of age speak English very well, compared with 53% of all Asian American immigrants.

The vast exhibition covers everything from Indian American food to yoga, engineers to cab drivers, and the LGBT community to hip hop.

In addition to the physical exhibit, the museum has also curated a fantastic digital collection that you can view from anywhere online, as well as a blog featuring interviews and insight from the artists and people involved with the project, and a collection of Indian American family portraits on Pinterest.

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There’s a lot of amazing context to explore – check it out!

These Ape Paintings Are Gangsta: The Mewar Ramayana

The Ramayana — “Rama’s journey” in Sanskrit — is one of the oldest written epics and a prominent pillar of Hindu literature and Desi culture. Most children grow up hearing tales of Prince Rama, either through books, comics, movies, or, like, B. in BRAHMAN/I, from relatives. The Ramayana is one of the Easter eggs in the DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY, and each play bears thematic links to the epic.

The Ramayana deals with the Hindu concept of duty, dharma, and, through the adventures of Prince Rama, readers or listeners learn how to behave virtuously and fulfill one’s duty. Rama himself is the seventh avatar of Vishnu, and thus displays the decorum and leadership expected of a warrior king, heroically defeating the ten-headed demon Ravana. The supporting characters include Sita, Rama’s devoted and faithful wife, Lakshmana; his loyal and brave brother, Hanuman; the Monkey King and Rama’s ally; and the hijras, who are rewarded for their fealty to Rama after waiting fourteen years in the forest for him to return from exile.

Each play in the trilogy either directly references or is inspired by Rama’s story. In BRAHMAN/I, B. resents identification with the “genetically stupid” hijras despite Auntie’s enthusiasm for them and instead prefers the “gangsta” Hanuman. But B.’s path to self-discovery includes fulfilling their duty to themselves and accepting that they are don’t have to fit into the dominant gender binary. B. casts their back-up musician J as Odysseus from the ancient Greek Odyssey, and at the end of the play, both characters have returned from a kind of outsider’s exile and learned to accept each other and themselves. Kalki, the tenth avatar of Vishnu, struggles in THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI to come to terms with her present humanity and its attendant emotions that are an obstacle to fulfilling her duty to vanquish evil. She remembers her past incarnation as Rama and being “loved for doing so little.” Though SHIV’s direct reference to the Ramayana passes quickly (listen for the conversation about Vimanas — ancient flying machines), Shiv’s conflicting duties to honor the memory of her father while pursuing her own happiness reflect the Ramayana-inspired struggles with responsibilities in a world beyond binaries.

Aditi’s trilogy incorporates riffs on the Ramayana story, but hundreds of versions of the epic exist dating from the eleventh century to the present day for those wanting to read the original tale. One favorite we discovered is displayed online in the British Library’s virtual rare books exhibit. The Mewar Ramayana is a lavishly illustrated copy prepared for the Maharana Jagat Singh, who ruled the western Indian kingdom of Mewar in the seventeenth-century and whose family traced their lineage back to Prince Rama and the sun god. A team of artists created the book for the king, and it features over 450 full-color illustrations. The British Library digitized the manuscript and has created a clickable folio that readers can browse through.

The Mewar Ramayana has Easter eggs of its own: multispectral imaging during the digitazation process revealed multiple layers to the paintings that show the techniques used by the artists, as well as revisions and corrections painted over later. Below are some scans of the battle between Rama’s army and Ravana and include a secret appearance by the Trimurti. Check out the rest here!

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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?

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,

 

Sita Sings the Blues

Aditi Kapil isn’t the only contemporary female artist to re-imagine the Hindu epics and cosmology. One hallmark film of the past several years is Nina Paley’s SITA SINGS THE BLUES, which interprets the famous love story Ramayana (featured in the play BRAHMAN/I) side by side with the story of Paley’s own dissolving marriage. It contains lush visuals and music, and as a bonus, provides some pretty dope summaries and explanations of Hindu mythology.

Watch the whole thing, below, or download it via Paley’s website, HERE. Find out more about the storytelling, animation styles, and political complexities of this piece HERE.

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ACK Comics: History, Mythology, Legend

The classic Amar Chitra Katha comics series is central in many Indian kids’ childhoods. It’s especially popular with children of immigrants, who use it as an entertaining teaching tool to convey cultural and mythological heritage.

The Trilogy as a whole, and KALKI in particular, embody an aesthetic of comic books and panelized story telling. Below, find a few examples of ACK comic pages taken from “The Tales of Vishnu” (and keep and eye out for Garuda!). Every ACK comic begins with a primer on the myth or history, and I’m including that here for reference. (Click to make ’em bigger.)

Interested in seeing more? You can download the ACK Comics app for iOs and Android by clicking HERE.

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