Bidhishna cowers before his brother, Ravana the Demon King of ten faces, as Ravana towers over him preparing to deliver the killing blow. The audience, wide-eyed by the spectacle, releases its breath as a moment later Ravana withdraws his sword and contemplates another punishment for his brother. Overhead birds skim across the sky ignoring the drama on the ground. In the far distance clouds, as indifferent as the birds, silently roll by. The sun has already moved on to awaken another part of the world.
I lean forward in my seat. I can’t understand a word of the stream of Thai coming from the musical narrators but I see a story in the web of motions and costumes. The mother of the friend who invited me to the performance says, “beautiful isn’t it”.
I’m too enthralled to even turn my head away and nod.
Breathlessly I watch as “The Defection of Bidhishna” unfolds before me.
For those who wish to see this play, I’m laying it all out so you may not want to read this. For anyone who wants to know what’s going on this is a good post to read because the play is in Thai.
Rewinding back to the beginning, the performance began with a display of traditional Thai music. The strumming tunes were stunning to say the least. In the open air their notes flew to the sky.
A friend of mine from school was playing in the group. Her instrument the jakhe sounded out among the other instruments. Her left hand’s fingers danced across the strings and her right hand rhythmically swayed as it used what is called a plectrum to strum.
Three groups—my friend’s group with a collection of traditional Thai instruments, a group of wind instruments and a clutch of singers—took two turns at displaying songs. The first round was without accompaniment. The second round featured dancers!
There were even little deer among the dancers! It really reminded me of the shows my little sister used to be part of. She did tap dancing and jazz when she was little and she was as adorable as these guys!
She’s not as adorable now gallivanting around with her horse, Vegas, but she’s acquired an adult grace somewhere along the way.
After the young dancers finished their pieces a trove of troll-like beings replaced them. Giants and demons these creatures lined the two sides of the stage.
After these subjects had entered the stage, demon ministers emerged.
They too settle into their seats.
Bidhishna, brother of the Demon King Ravana, then entered and sat by a minister.
Moving in a motion that comes from having all the time in the world Ravana entered the stage and headed for his throne. Thundering around the stage he turns to his brother.
Ravana showed signs of distress. He told his brother he had a dream about two vultures—one black and one white—fighting each other.
In the dream the black vulture was killed and turned into Ravana holding a coconut shell with oil in it. A woman entered and lit the oil in the shell on fire with a torch. As she did Ravana was filled with dread.
The Demon King with ten heads finished describing his dream and awaited his brother’s advice. After some thought and a moment gathering his courage Bidhishna spoke. He told his brother that the dream is evil—that the coconut represented Lanka, the demon kingdom; the wick in the oil was Ravana himself and the oil represented the royal family. The fire was Lady Sita, wife to the human king Rama a reincarnate of the Lord Vishnu who is destined to rid the universe of the demon race. (Ravana fell in love with Lady Sita and stole her away.)
The two vultures were Rama and Ravana and Rama claimed victory.
Ravana was further disturbed by his brother’s interpretation of the dream.
He asked for a way to prevent the dream. As the audience quietly watched, Bibhishana offered the only solution he knew.
“Pay heed to me, your own brother,
Be of righteous mind;
Forsake your love;
Return Sita to her rightful husband, Rama.”
– Khon Script, “The Episode of the Defection of Bidhishna” by M.R. Kukrit Pramoj (A booklet I bought after the show)
The Demon King of ten faces feared for his life, but he loved Lady Sita too much and roared in anger. In his anger he accused Bidhishna of aiming for his throne.
Bidhishna, fearing for his life, begged for reason and forgiveness. He strived to show his loyalty.
As the audience gasped Ravana leapt up to kill his brother and they fought.
Two ministers tried to protect Bidhishna. They fought for him, hid him and gave him support.
When they realized the battle was lost they tried to beg for Bidhishna’s life.
Ravana spared his brother’s life, but took away his lands and title. He banished Bidhishna from Lanka.
The royal court dissolved as Bidhishna was led off stage to suffer in exile.
End of scene. Look for the next scene in the coming post!