As a young girl growing up in India, I could recite the story of the Ramayana from memory. I came to the U.S. in 6th grade to attend Mount Madonna School (MMS). I left behind my country and culture uncertain of what life in the U.S. would entail.
MMS has a strong reputation for academic integrity and balances this with an investment in culture, arts, and creativity. I was ecstatic to learn that every year all students would participate in a play adapted from the classical Indian tale, the Ramayana. The story of the Ramayana is deeply rooted in my cultural heritage and acting in the play connected me to a piece of home I left behind.
In my seven years at Mount Madonna School, I got to play many different characters in the Ramayana. I was a Guha villager, a Bhartnatyam dancer, Surpanakha, Sugriv (the Monkey King), and Queen Mandodari, Ravan’s wife. For many years, I yearned to play the part of Sita. In my final year at Mount Madonna, I was cast as Mandodari instead of Sita. Mandodari isn’t a character I could imagine myself being as a little girl watching hours and hours of the Ramayana on TV. I always idolized Sita, the epitome of grace, beauty, and the divine feminine. I struggled to understand Mandodari’s character throughout the months of rehearsals.
Finally, during the Saturday night performance, it clicked. I stopped “acting” the part and imagined what it was like as a woman married to the most powerful and evil king. A king whose greed and lust drove him to conquer the world and abduct Sita all in the name of revenge.
I can close my eyes and take myself back to that Saturday night performance. I can recite every line from the moment Mandodari begs Ravan to return Sita to her husband but that isn’t what is magical about the Ramayana. The beauty is that I can, to this day, feel the pain and sorrow of Mandodari just as I did when I played that character 11 years ago.
If I could have the opportunity to go back and be a part of this production again, I would do it instantly. Ask any student who has attended Mount Madonna School, the Ramayana holds a special place in each of our hearts. It engrains a sense of cultural appreciation when you learn songs, dances, and names from a country that’s on the other side of the world. To those unfamiliar with the story, it’s difficult to explain how this ancient Indian epic can evoke a deep sense of belonging and community amongst students living in a coastal town in California. To truly understand it, one must go watch it or even better, be a part of it. Once you become a part of the play and the MMS community, there is an unspeakable bond to the characters, to the songs and dances, to each and every line or joke that is never forgotten.
Jai Hanuman, Jai Sita Ram! Presenting Mount Madonna School’s 43rd annual “Ramayana” adapted for modern audiences and set to a mix of traditional and contemporary music. An action-filled epic for the whole family featuring dazzling special effects including a fire-breathing dragon! On June 9, 10, 11 and 12 at the Mexican Heritage Theater in San Jose. Reserve tickets at mountmadonnaschool.org/ramayana