Clouds part for magical outdoor theater spectacle
Ramayana dance drama by East-West School of Dance, New York on July 24, 2004
by Paul Rebhan 
August 21, 2004   

 "Don't worry. It never rains on Ramayan. It can't happen!" From anyone else, such a confident prediction would have been taken with a high degree of skepticism. But these words were spoken by Pandit Satya Narayana Charka, world famous, award-winning dancer, choreographer and teacher of Indian dance. For the past twenty-one years, Pandit Charka has produced an elaborate staging of Ramayana, the ancient epic of good and evil at the Ananda Ashram outdoor amphitheater in Monroe, New York. And on each of those occasions, it never rained. This year's performance was set for Saturday night, July 24th, but just one day before, things did not look good. It rained heavily all day Friday and the weather forecast called for heavy rain throughout the weekend. Always the pragmatist, I kept my umbrella ready - just in case.

My umbrella never got used. Miraculously, the skies opened up on Saturday afternoon and golden rays of sunlight dried the stage by curtain time. At 8:30 pm. a crowd had gathered, the stage lights came up and we were treated to a delightful evening of mythology and drama.

This production of Ramayana was a unique experience in a variety of ways. The cast included an unexpected mix of accomplished professional artists such as ballet dancer David Pittenger, semi-professional students of Pandit Charka, and many amateur volunteers who had never even been on stage before. The dialogue was provided by pre-recorded audio with exaggerated voices that ranged in tone from comical to sinister, and the background soundtrack consisted of oddly edited clips of Indian and orchestral music. In any other situation, this mix could have resulted in an aesthetic nightmare. But this production somehow left the audience feeling transformed, entertained and charmed. There was a sense of warmth and community expressed in this production that left me feeling as if I had been transported back in time to a local theater in a small Indian town.

Rama sends Hanuman to Lanka
Burning Lanka

The audience cheered as Ramayana climaxed with the final scenes of the city of Lanka burning (a large real fire was set as part of the scenery), a grand battle, the reuniting of the story's two central characters and the joyous celebration of good over evil.

After the performance Pandit Charka received congratulations and compliments from many distinguished guests, but he took the time to share an important message with me: "Next year, you can leave your umbrella home." 

Pandit Charka is already busy preparing for his next big production, Krishna Leela, which will be performed on September 4th. Information about Krishna Leela and many other upcoming Ananda Ashram events can be obtained by calling 845-782-5575 or by emailing