Music and Religion

Cross-posted from

A Rhyming Play Based On Sri Chinmoy's Writings

Here is a play recently performed for Sri Chinmoy and his students. Its aim is to illustrate how misunderstandings between religions are an ancient challenge for humanity, but as Sri Chinmoy teaches, there is hope for the oneness of all humanity, and that historical figures such as Sri Krishna, Mirabai and Akbar The Great can inspire us and show us the way.
 


Inspired By Sri Chinmoy's Talk:
Music And Religion

CAST

Krishna
Akbar The Great
Mirabai
Birbal
Prince Bhoja Raj (Mirabai’s Husband)
Mirabai’s Mother
Ratna Singh (Mirabai’s Father)
Mirabai’s Mother-In-Law
Mirabai’s Sister-In-Law
Tansen
Haridas
Narrator

SCENE 1 – MIRABAI

[Enter Mirabai and her statue of Krishna]

Narrator:
The honeyed sun came closer to,
but shyly veiled himself from view,
drawing spices from the air.
The maiden moon watched soft and fair.
Early stars came out to glisten.
Bells and creatures stilled to listen:
[Mirabai’s music starts]
Tiger harkened out of sight
Peacock nestled for the night
Spider paused upon his yarn.
The young princess of Rajasthan
sweeter, finer than them all
sang behind a jewelled wall.
[Enter Mother & Father. Mirabai still sings]

Father [furious]:
If I see that Moghul scum
in ten miles of my country come
That rank Mohammedan I’ll curse
with fleas or warts or death, or worse!
I’ll pluck his whiskers one by one!
I’ll light his hair to see him run!
I’ll skin his ears, I’ll roast his eyes!
Can any Hindu man despise
that scoundrel Akbar more than I?
And tell me what gives HER the right [pointing at Mirabai]
to sing and prattle all her life?
She is soon to be the wife
of Bhoja Raj, the future king!
Will he want to hear her SING!?
Have you wondered how we’ll look
if this our daughter cannot cook,
wear proper dress, or serve him tea?

Mother:
Shanti! Dearest, let her be.
Krishna is her only love.
Her marriage vows came from Above.
You may think her pale and odd
but all she does she does for God!
How can we send our child away
when all she knows is how to pray?
Her fate is sealed, her path is set.

Father [more furious]:
I command her to forget
that ever she was Mirabai
and idled here with you and I!
I’ll make her overcome this fad
before that statue drives her mad!
Her only way to win my pride
is as a Hindu warrior’s bride!
[Exit parents, Mother crying.
Mirabai continues to sing, then exits with Krishna]

SCENE 2 – AKBAR & BIRBAL

[Sounds of Akbar and Birbal laughing and dog barking off stage. Enter Akbar and Birbal, laughing]

Akbar:
Birbal, can you tell me how
your dog comes to ignore you now?
He wagged his tail and begged for food.
The plate I gave was half as good
as that you offered next to mine,
yet yours he shunned, and chose to dine
exclusively upon my fare!

Birbal:
My king, that dog would not beware
A single morsel from my hand
No matter what its taste or brand.
His choice came not from his suspicion.
Even dogs know their position:
he’ll only eat within his class -
he’s always faithful to his caste!
[They laugh and Akbar chases Birbal]
Akbar:
Birbal, you scamp, you imp, you knave!
Now I will force you to behave,
and I will go to any length! [grabs Birbal by the wrist]
So you demon, show your strength!
If you escape from Akbar’s grip
You will avoid his horse’s whip!

Birbal: [not trying to escape]
Rama! Rama! Rama! Rama!
Rama! Rama! Rama! Rama!

Akbar:
What’s this? You chant instead of fight?
How will that loose a grip so tight?

Birbal:
When one is haunted by a ghost
it’s Rama’s name that helps the most.
They’re scared to death and soon turn tail
but with you it seems to fail…
You are no ghost, you must be worse!
Who’ll free me from this fateful curse?
[Akbar promptly releases him]
Akbar:
No, I’m not worse! It’s me, your king!
With whom you play and sport and sing!
O dearest friend, o noble minister!
Do you think your Akbar sinister? [Birbal laughs and runs away]
And so I see you win again!
You are the cleverest of men…
but, rascal, pixie, gremlin, monkey!
Come here, you son of a… donkey!

Birbal: [laughing]
Aha! Now your words are true.
Majesty, surely none but you
could I consider my true father
and no other would I rather.

Akbar:
So truth is false and false is fair!
Ah Birbal I do despair!
They are too close to see the difference!

Birbal:
See here, three inches is the distance
from what’s false to what is true.
Let me demonstrate on you.
Gossip and fibs are what we hear,
these all enter through the ear.
But here’s the place that knows no lies,
only truth enters the eyes!

Akbar:
Birbal, you are the wisest fool.
You teach me more than any school.

Birbal:
No Majesty, no fool is wise.
A fool is one who never tries
to make his work on earth complete.
His life again he must repeat
until he sees his duty done.
The wise man’s worldly goal is won
by finishing what he has started.
He’ll not return once he’s departed
from this outer earthly plane.
Majesty, that does not explain
who goes to Heaven and who to hell.
That finer point I’ve yet to tell.
The truly wise are those whose birth
brings only love to all on earth.
They see God in all creation:
every heart and every nation….
Emperor, you are truly wise.
This is no sycophantic praise.
You love the Christians and the Jews,
you always ask me for their news.
Of the Hindu and the Sikh
only highly do you speak.
You love those who do not love:
you love the cow, the pig, the dove,
the dog, you’d even love the fleas.
The dawn, the dusk, the rain, the breeze
all are Godly in your sight.
You love, so you are always right.

Akbar:
Birbal, once more I am disarmed.
With your heart my heart you’ve charmed.
In words I’m stumped, I’m stunned, I’m beat….
so let us use our mouths to eat!
[Exit both laughing]

SCENE 3 – MIRABAI & BHOJA RAJ

[Mirabai follows Bhoja Raj around the fire to a sacred chant and they garland each other signifying their marriage. Mother-In-Law greets them and all three exit. Mirabai re-enters and crosses the stage with Krishna, then prays at His Feet. Enter Sister-In-Law & Mother-In-Law]

Sister-In-Law:
No! I will not call her sister!
The word would give my tongue a blister!
I’d rather give her a good hard kick!
So meeeeek and puuuure, she makes me sick!
She has you round her little finger!
Face it, she’s a dreeeeadful singer.
She’s ugly and her nose is small,
her eyes are piggy, she’s much too tall.
She snubs the Goddess that we worship,
and worst of all she does not gossip!

Mother-In-Law:
You’ve taunted Mirabai enough!
Everybody has their stuff!
It’s time you cut the girl some slack.
She’s here and we can’t send her back.
Beside that, we could use the dowry….
I tried to make her pray to Gauri.
She just begged me for that statue.
“Go oooon,” I said, “But if I catch you
sleeping past the break of day
because you sang the night away,
I’ll eat you whole! So woe betide you!
Then your Krishna will not hide you!”
[Mother-In-Law exits laughing. Enter Bhoja Raj]

Sister-In-Law:
Brother, do you think your wife
Will love and serve you all her life,
Baking cakes and knitting slippers,
fetching your paper and morning kippers?
You think that she prays all night,
that all she does is sweet and right.
Well brother I’m a super-sleuth;
I followed her to find the truth.
She’s in the temple sure enough,
but not to pray – that’s all a bluff!
She meets in there with other men!
She turns the place into a den,
drinking, dancing all night long.
It’s base, perverse… and very wrong!

[Bhoja Raj runs to the other side of the stage with his sword bared, listening at the temple. Exit Sister-In-Law laughing]

Mirabai:
“I am mad with love
And no one understands my plight.
Only the wounded
Understand the agonies of the wounded,
When the fire rages in the heart.
[Enter Bhoja Raj]
Only the jeweller knows the value of the jewel,
Not the one who lets it go....”
- Mirabai

Bhoja Raj:
[laughing, shaking head, exiting]
Oh my sister is a tike!
Deadpan, straight-faced as you like,
claiming Mirabai’s impure!
Pigs would fly first, now I’m sure.
[Exit Mirabai and Krishna]

SCENE 4 – AKBAR & TANSEN

[Enter Akbar & Tansen. Tansen starts to play sitar.]

Akbar: (crying)
Ah! Tansen! Your notes are gems!
They’d charm the lilies from their stems!
Each one as sweet as any cherry!
They’d even make a deaf man merry!
Tansen, there is no competition;
in this world you’re the best musician.

Tansen:
Majesty, if that were true
I would not come to play for you.
The best are best because they know
their talent is not meant for show.
The best will play for God alone.
They live in forests on their own,
in wooden hovels rude and bare.
For palaces they have no care,
but not for me that lonesome hush;
I adore this royal plush:
the marble walls, the chuckling fountains,
the minarets beneath the mountains,
a plate of sweets in every room,
the fresh towels with their light perfume.
Those little cakes all drenched in honey…
No, I play for fame and money,
but two musicians you must hear.
Their notes are chocolate for the ear.
They still the tiger, lure the dove,
conquer storms and conjure love!
Because their notes are the Supreme’s
their music is beyond my dreams.
They are my teacher Haridas
and Mirabai the young princess
I will take you to their place
but we must somehow change your face.
I will take you as my slave
but worry not, you needn’t shave.
We’ll wrap you up in some old swathe
and tell them you’ve just been to bathe,
or that you fear the light of day...
or that you always dress that way...

Akbar:
Tansen, you jest! Can this be true?
BOTH superior to you?
I’ll surely drown in my own tears!
Let me hear this with my own ears....

[Exit both. Enter Haridas, sitting down to meditate.
Enter Akbar (disguised) with Tansen]

Tansen: [folding hands then touching the feet of Haridas]
Master Haridas, Pranam.
The sight of you is such a balm.
I have brought a man today.
His dream is just to hear you play. [Hands him the sitar]
In fact this is his last desire
before he greets his funeral pyre.
He is so frail and very old, [Akbar stoops]
and now dementia’s taking hold [Akbar starts shaking]
I promised him this final meeting.
Will you bless him with a greeting?
He is a worker in my house,
completely free from flea and louse,
just some diseases of the skin. [Akbar starts scratching]
Won’t you permit him to come in?

Haridas:
Let the old man have a seat!
Don’t let him stoop to touch my feet.
Would he like a cup of tea?
But why would you bring him to me?
I thought you would have had more sense!
I never take an audience!
Let him hear what you have gained [grand and solemn]
in all those years of being trained
according to the ancient ways.
Show him how a master plays,
as everything I ever knew,
I have in turn bestowed on you.
Tansen, my son, I’ll listen proudly.
Play it well, and play it loudly. [Carefully hands back the sitar]
[Tansen plays it like a like a banjo, jumping around the stage]

Haridas: [hands over his ears trying to grab Tansen]
AAAHHHH! Tansen? Are you insane?!
OOOOHHH how my ears cry in pain!
What beast or devil is within you?
My own Tansen? Can it be true?
O God above, do please protect him!
The plague of bluegrass does infect him!
[Haridas takes the sitar and starts to play]
I must insist you let me play,
to wash that dreadful sound away!
[Haridas plays as he exits in ecstasy.
Akbar and Tansen follow, jubilant, with a few Bollywood moves.]

[Enter Mirabai and Krishna. She starts to sing.
Enter Akbar and Tansen.]

Akbar:
Tansen, it’s sweeter than a bird,
than any music ever heard
by this or any other ear!
So strong yet delicate and clear.
I feel my soul has taken flight
upon the very sound’s delight,
captured by its upward drift…
Before we leave, I leave this gift.
These diamonds are a tiny token
of the praise my heart has spoken.
[Akbar carefully puts a diamond necklace at the foot of Krishna.
Exit Akbar and Tansen. Music fades.
Enter Bhoja Raj, who grabs the necklace.]

Bhoja Raj:
You bring a scandal on our race!
You let a Muslim see your face!?
Accepting from him lavish jewels
and singing to him while he drools?
Have you no female modesty,
no sense, no shame, no honesty?
He is your father’s greatest rival!
Have you no care for our survival?
No pride in Hindu sovereignty?
Are you devoid of enmity,
of wisdom, judgement and perception?
You’d give each creed the same reception?!
You are not fit to share my crown!
Not fit to live! … So you must drown.
Your proper place, o base deceiver,
Is at the bottom of a river!
[Exit Bhoja Raj]

SCENE 5 – KRISHNA & MIRABAI

[River sounds]
Mirabai:
“Do not leave me alone, a helpless woman.
My strength, my crown,
I am empty of virtues,
You, the ocean of them.”

“Where can I go? Save my honour
For I have dedicated myself to you
And now there is no one else for me.”

[Enter Krishna, river sounds subside, flute starts to play]
“On a sudden,
the sight.
Your look of light
stills all”

“Unbreakable, O Lord,
Is the love
That binds me to You:
Like a diamond,
It breaks the hammer that strikes it.

My heart goes into You
As the polish goes into the gold.
As the lotus lives in its water,
I live in You.

Like the bird
That gazes all night
At the passing moon,
I have lost myself dwelling in You.”

“I came for the sake of love-devotion;
seeing the world, I wept.”
- Mirabai


Krishna:
Your life of perfection
Is the future of the world.
Your life of satisfaction
Is the future for the world.
Your life of unconditional surrender
Is the future in the world.
(Sri Chinmoy - Union And Oneness)

“The future of religion
Is a sleepless world-oneness-song
And God-satisfaction-dance.”
(Sri Chinmoy - Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 11)

“The source of true music and the source of true religion will always remain the same, and that source is a cry, a birthless and deathless cry - an eternal hunger. It is a hunger not for one's own satisfaction, but for God's Satisfaction in God's own Way.”
(Sri Chinmoy – “Music and Religion”)


Sumangali Morhall
December 2006