Night: KONUNG MAHA RAS AT PALACE TEMPLE
We change in the dark. I’ts another of those annoying black-outs that comes from a power shortage. I think people here are mostly used to it by take it stoically. How much of it is due to a cultural low self-esteem? For lack of a cultural vision of a possible future?
Maha Ras was on its way. The women sit with my mother; Les and I with the men. Mike insists on coming though she obviously still has a cold.
There are maybe 60 dancers, all women. They form a circle, and as the evening wears on, form yet another circle. There are that many gopis, all in scarlet potlois like the one Zette looked at yesterday. But the dance costume has a large shimmery peplum and the women have conical hairdos and a gauzy white veil that drapes over it and over their faces. They also have a tight white wrapping around their upper bodies. Did someone once tell me the drum-like shape of the dress, the veil, and the white wrapping that tamps down the bosom are all meant to minimize blatant sensuousness? I guess that would be important since the Ras, being a form of Vaishnav worship, comes down to love. Erotic love being one of the major ones among the 64 listed.
The idols of Radha and Krishna have moved out from their shrine in the temple, into the center of the performance space. As the gods themselves have graced the occasion with their presence, as is customary in the Palace Temple, no performers dance the roles of Krishna and Radha. The idols rotate on a wooden platfor and the lead dancer dances around, keeping the gods in front of her.
The lead dancer, or makokchingbi, is very good. Of course the pros are there to lead the singing: Thouranisabi and Gambhini, and there are four additional professional singers to the side, as backup. My ubiquitous aunt is there too, having been a rather well-known beauty and singer before she married my uncle. Who, to carry my Star Wars analogy a little further into the realm of disrespect, always reminded me of Jabba the Hutt.
The other dancers are middling to terrible. “The worse they are, the more jewelry they wear”, my mother remarks wryly to Mike. Apparently they pay a lot of money. There being so many this year, obviously filling a cash crunch at the Temple Board, the dancers collide like a doll demolition derby. Their peplums continually get entangled and I see tempers fly among the Palace dancing beauties.
My cameraman is a cocky young man who does not bother to dress traditional while using his 3-chip camera. He gets yelled at by an older devotee and I rush him out quickly. End of documentation, unless I succeed in chatting up one of the other cameramen hired by a doting husband or a budding prima donna. The problem is, like the makokchingbi dancing to the rotating gods, I fear they footage will only show the one dancer the cameraman has been hired to film.
Bhangi starts. It is too late to get out to catch the Bijoy Gobinda Maha Ras that takes place simultaneously across town. I thought it might be fun to see the liove Krishna and Radha dancers there. We stick it out in the cold. The lights go off as Krishna disappears in order to teach Radha not to be so high-maintenance. A pure young voice wafts in the dark towards me. It is Radha apologizing for her bad manners in asking for preferential treatment over her fellow gopis. It is sung a capella, lovely and melodious.
We leave for Bijoy Gobinda as soon as we can. But the Ras is already over there and we only see the clean-up crew.