An Epic Journey….Performing the Sri Aurobindo Play…Installment 3

A great swath of time has passed since the project first began.  A lot of time.  Yet as Kaivalya and his sons and a troop of male actors prepared for the 3rd installment of the Sri Aurobindo play the goal was now almost in sight.  Though at best current estimates the final piece of the puzzle would not be in place place until August of 2018.

Sri Chinmoy standing before Sri Aurobindo samadhi in Pondicherry

Kaivalya was in the midst of some last minute costume preparation as he once again recounted the story of how it all began.   For certain episode 3 of the play was minutes from being performed.  He believes the whole great project was first was set in motion in 1998 when Sri Chinmoy called him and said, “I would like you to do my whole, Descent of the Blue. (his play dedicated to Sri Aurobindo).  Take as long as you like, use as many disciples as you like,  and spend as much money as you like and make it a big job.  So I said fine and started working on it.”

Unfortunately an unforeseen set of circumstances came up and the project was put on hold.  “As you know when something is intended to happen and then it doesn’t happen it never reoccurs for a long long time.”  It was only after many years when he was performing in a small scene from the play that the spark was once again reignited.  “Then it came back to me what Sri Chinmoy had first asked me many many years ago.”

The trajectory of the play from then until now has seen the project influenced by a number of inspirations.  Not the least of course were the crucial contributions of his 2 sons Devashishu and Sahadeva.  They felt that breaking the play into instalments would heighten the overall experience and tell the story better than in just one long 4 hour performance.  Devashishu volunteered to write the scripts and Sahadeva offered to provide musical accompaniment.

Ultimately the first section took place in August 2014 and was followed by part 2 the next year.  After a gap of of one year in 2016 part 3 followed this past August which will hopefully see the 4th and final installment performed in August of 2018.

“We felt the first 2 performances worked well, then last year didn’t happen and we were all quite happy to wait a year.”  Kaivalya then mentioned all the bits of the actual story that will have to be concluded in order for the story to at last be complete.

Kaivalya’s role during the play is to act as the narrator and performs in character as the elder Sri Aurobindo.  “I have a very strong feeling of the play.  I feel really strongly connected.  In the play what I do is recall my whole life through all the other actors.  It will be quite nice next year when the 2 Aurobindos meet in heaven. (younger played by Abhinabha)

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Speaking with Abhinabha as he gets into costume in the final minutes before the performance starts it seems almost incomprensible to imagine that earlier in the day he was running a very fast marathon up at Rockland State park.  He says his race plan didn’t work out but he is being incredibly modest about his time for the race.  He was 3rd in a time of 2:39. “I was hoping to do a couple of minutes faster.”

He says that he was not in the least distracted by his role in the play which would follow fast on the heels of his marathon.  “Totally separate chapter.  The marathon was just a marathon and then when I came back this thing started.”  Abhinabha confesses that he had to learn a long and complicated script but that the blocking of the play and in a sense the one and only rehearsal took place only in the afternoon.  “It was the first real rehearsal.” Interestingly he suggests that running a fast marathon is a harder challenge for him then performing in a play.

“The marathon is a good reality check.  You can’t cheat it.”

This is now the 3rd time he has taken on the challenge of performing as the young Aurobindo.  “Every time I play the part something special happens, especially the first time.  It is not so much a mental or learning experience it is a spiritual experience I feel.  You are embodying a spiritual master of a very high caliber.  That does something to your consciousness.  The first time I felt tremendous peace, both after and during the performance.  I always feel so comfortable in that role.   It is a very very special experience.”

“I have always had an affinity for Sri Aurobindo both for his writings and his poetry.  So it was a huge honor for me and so it was a dream come true that I could play the part.” He also appreciates greatly how Devashishu was able to mold the original play into 4 self contained and meaningful portions.  “He knows how to draw a story into it while at the same time doing justice to the original play.”

Despite there being a gap of one year between parts 2 and now part 3 Abhinabha says, “I always had confidence.  I knew Devashsishu was planning for this year.  I was confident that it was going to happen.  I am looking forward to the last part because that is where Sri Chinmoy moves to the ashram with his family.   That is going to be very sweet for us. ”

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“People need humor, especially after running 26 miles.”  Devashishu was speaking just after completing his own theatrical marathon.  One in which he had to overcome a different set of obstacles.   Namely writing a hour plus script and then having a minimal amount of time to rehearse.

A few days earlier he had at least expressed some doubts about the project all coming together but now after a flawless performance he can happily confirm, “yes it has worked.”

He confesses that one of the reasons there had been some doubts was that he had gotten sick shortly after arriving in New York for celebrations.  “I was just a little under the weather.” Having written and directed and performed in many plays over the years he describes the enormous amount of energy needed to make it all happen.  During celebrations in particular many are involved in many different activities.  “Some of these guys are in 2,3, or 4 singing groups.”

When I mention how his lead actor had run a very fast marathon just earlier he says, “I can’t imagine.  A 2:39 marathon, rehearsing for a concert that is tomorrow night, and he is in a singing group that is performing every day.  So to do this is something.  But part of the aspect that makes this all so fun is that people are so busy that they are in a mode that is just all giving.  You just have to give as much as you can when you can.”

“There is something about the dynamism that you pour into each of the events.  But you get on a role here during celebrations.  You are doing this and you are doing that. I think it makes you lighter, I think it makes you brighter.  It makes your mind clearer and it gives you tremendous joy.”

When the play is happening he says the most important thing for him to do is to maintain the feeling  “What I am really concerned about is that Sri Chinmoy’s play the Descent of the Blue has such depth and profundity in it, and how it captures Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness that you want to somehow bring that consciousness over.  That is the main thing.”  From both the audience’s point of view and his own he feels that play on this Warm August evening managed to do that.

“There were moments where you really felt who Sri Aurobindo is and what he gave to the world.  Sri Chinmoy captures that so beautifully in his play.” As for if the final installment will take place next August he is not yet certain.  “When I sit down to write the play sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t  happen straight away.  It can take a while and usually at some point some fire pushes it through.  Some ideas come and it all starts coming together.

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Jai Hind Part 2…..An Adaption of Descent of the Blue

We don’t know exactly when this picture was taken but of course we know where.  Most likely it was taken shortly before Sri Chinmoy left Pondicherry to come to America in 1964.  In it we see a young man paying homage to his late spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo.   With his head bowed and his hands folded he stands in front of the Maha Samadhi in the very heart of the Sri Aurobindo ashram in south India.

chinmoy_at_samadhi

Question: You had a teacher?

Sri Chinmoy: I had a teacher in those days. Sri Aurobindo was my teacher. I was at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for twenty years. But then, when I became fully aware of my inner realities and existence, the Supreme became my Guru. At first, Sri Aurobindo was in the physical body, then he left the body in 1950. But once I got my inner illumination, then I found that the Absolute Supreme is the only Guru — your Guru, my Guru, everybody’s Guru. Only the Lord Supreme is the Guru of the entire world.

Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy answers, part 34, Agni Press, 2004

kaivalya-good

It is now late August of 2015.  Hundreds of students of Sri Chinmoy have come to New York from around the world to honor their late Spiritual master Sri Chinmoy.  It is a gathering that has been going on now for decades and continues to inspire all those who come, even those who never had the opportunity to meet their teacher in person.

flower-kaivalya

Yet the spiritual life is filled with many wonders and mysteries that cannot be entirely observed, only felt within and experienced in a way unique to each and every seeker. Kaivalya Torpy once received a phone call in February of 1999 from Sri Chinmoy, asking him to produce a full length version of the play he had written about the life of Sri Aurobindo.

‘Descent of the Blue’ was a play that Sri Chinmoy had painstakingly worked on for nearly 2 years while living in the ashram in Pondicherry.  Eventually it was published serially over a period of 4 years between 1958 and 1962.

abhinabha2

When Kaivalya was asked to produce the play in 1999 it had never been performed in its entirety.  At the time of his phone conversation with Sri Chinmoy he was asked to take as many hours as necessary to perform the play and also to include as many of his students as was necessary.  He was very enthusiastic about seeing the play at last reaching the stage. “I want a nice big play”, he told Kaivalya.

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Jai Hind…..An Adaptation of ‘The Descent Of The Blue’

What did you think of the show tonight?

“I had very little expectations, because there were so many uncertainties, but it came off very well.”  Still wearing his wig of long flowing white hair Kaivalya answers me. Minutes earlier he and his 2 sons, along with a large cast had just taken their bows before a large and very enthusiastic audience.

kaivalya-bowing

I caught up with him as he was making a hasty exit from the performance space and heading back to his room in order to change out of his costume.  Taking quick strides up the hill he was approached every few meters by excited and happy audience members, who would either call out their congratulations, or reach out to shake his hand.  He is clearly moved by all the very real and fervent enjoyment that so many had for his project. Which was the once only performance of a  play entitled, Jai Hind (Indian independence victory slogan), based on a play by Sri Chinmoy called, The Descent Of The Blue.

For the moment he still eerily resembles the great Indian spiritual Master Sri Aurobindo.  The loud roar of approval from the crowd of several hundred, who had just watched his performance over several enjoyable hours  seems to still linger in the warm still air of this New York night.  It was an unequivocal triumph, but it was also a performance that resonated with an even deeper meaning.   For it was in many ways a promise at last fulfilled.  One that had taken its natural rich course of 15 years to finally arrive on the auspicious night of August 25th at the Aspiration Ground in New York.

Descent-of-the-Blue“In 1999 Sri Chinmoy phoned me up directly, and he said, I want you to do, Descent of the Blue.  Take as much time as you like.  3 hours, 4 hours, 5 hours, what do you think?”

“I said, I don’t know Guru.  He said use as many people as you like.  Spend as much money as you like but do a very big production.  So I said fine.  It was the fall and Sri Chinmoy wanted it in August.  I can’t remember the time sequence but I was calling people all over the world.  Particularly people who looked Indian to take part.  I was preparing and researching, and reading books and going to the Sri Aurobindo society in London.”

But then an unforeseeable set of circumstances arose that winter and the project was shelved, for what appeared to be an indefinite time period.  Gradually slipping away out of reach and almost tumbling into oblivion.

The passing of Sri Chinmoy in 2007 could easily have been the absolute end of any hope of the production ever finding its way to the stage.   Kaivalya however never completely gave up hope, as it was clearly something direct and significant that his Spiritual teacher had asked of him.  But over time his once powerful commitment had been reduced he says to just a small inkling.

But like so many of the great seeds of inspiration that Sri Chinmoy carefully planted and nurtured in the hearts of his students this one was to finally find new life.   He says that while visiting Portugal in early 2013 he performed in a short performance where he played the part of Sri Aurobindo.   Someone remarked afterwards.  That they liked the play but that they had also seen and enjoyed Kaivalya years earlier portraying Sri Aurobindo  in another play.  His reaction to their compliment, “my heart leapt, You know, you are right.”

Sri Chinmoy_at_samadhiIt was in 1958 while still living in the Sri Aurobindo ashram that Sri Chinmoy had written the original play, The Descent Of The Blue.”  He and his brothers and sisters had first come there in 1944.  He was just 12 years of age when he first arrived.  From then until he left the ashram in 1964 he grew up and developed in its very powerful spiritual, cultural, and athletic environment.

Sri Chinmoy’s play is a devoted and soulful appreciation of the life, of not just one of the towering figures of India, but also one, who through his divine wisdom, was also a source of inspiration to the world.  Sri Chinmoy was able to capture the transformation of a man from Indian revolutionary to one who became an enlightened spiritual teacher to the world.  A task in which the young Sri Chinmoy was uniquely placed, living in Pondicherry, to carefully and devotedly write about.

Between 1958 and 1962 the play was originally published in installments in an ashram publication.  In 1974 it was published intact some 10 years after Sri Chinmoy had established his own spiritual community in New York.  But now as Kaivalya pondered the challenges of at last bringing a lengthy play to a western audience, he came up with the best possible strategy.

“So I handed over the directorship to my son, (Devashishu), who has more energy than I have.  Both sons in fact said it is much too long a play for one evening.  So why don’t we split it in half.  We will do the political bit now and next year in August we will do the super mind bit.  I said fine.”

devasishu

“So Devashishu took over the directorship, and he wrote in bits to explain what was happening politically, he added lots more.  So the play was completely rounded off.”

For several days leading up to the big night Devashishu was rehearsing the play in a large back yard a few blocks from the performance space.  I spoke with him earlier.

boys2

“The project is a performance based on a play by Sri Chinmoy called The Descent Of The Blue.  It is the story of Sri Aurobindo a great Indian Spiritual Master, who was Sri Chinmoy’s master.”

Abhinabha plays the young Aurobindo

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