Krishna Lila, is a dance of devotion. It relates the yearning of devotees for the presence of their Lord and their infinite joy when He comes to them. It is a dance, not only of the external relationship between Master and devotee, but of our internal longing for God and our supreme bliss when we receive Knowledge and can know Him within ourselves.
Set in the forest of Vrindaban in Northern India 5,000 years ago, Krishna Lila opens as the gopies (milkmaids) awaken and prepare for the day. In an intricate weaving dance, the gopies gather flowers and make garlands, ever in anticipation of their Lord Krishna. On this day, Krishna comes to be with his devotees and sets the gopies dancing with the sound of his flute, but soon he must leave. As he goes, Radha, most beloved of the gopies, presents him with a lotus, and a great sorrow falls over the gopies when their Lord is no longer with them.
The second act finds Krishna by a river, bathing with his devoted servant Uddho. As they play, a lotus floats by them, and Krishna is reminded of his Radha. In a pas de deux sequence, Krishna dreams that he comes upon Radha and dances with her.
We are returned to Vrindaban for the third act, where we find the gopies grieving for their Krishna. Imagining the songbirds to be his flute, they fall deeper into sorrow as each time they discover their error. Finally, drawn by their love, Krishna returns to the gopies. In a magnificent mandala dance, Krishna manifests himself many times over so that each gopi may dance with him. The Rasa Dance is said to have continued for 1,728, 000 years, or one night of Brahma.
Krishna Lila was conceived by Guru Maharaj Ji late in 1971. An ensemble was formed to perform the dance and premiered in July of 1972 before an audience of 5,000 at the Guru Puja festival in Colorado. The troupe established themselves as a permanent company and were named the Divine Light Dance Ensemble by Guru Maharaj Ji.
As the ensemble rehearsed and performed, Guru Maharaj Ji gave frequent suggestions and corrections to the dancers and told them to "perfect Krishna Lila." DLDE took Krishna Lila across America, concluding their tour with a special performance at the United Nations, and left for India to perform at the Hans Jayanti festival last November in Delhi. The company returned to America, performed several times on the East Coast, and came to Houston to prepare for Millennium '73.
A radical change has taken place with the dance for Millennium '73. The original dance troupe of 19 has expanded to 51 for the Astrodome stage. "We are realizing Guru Maharaj Ji's vision for Krishna Lila more clearly now," said Lothar Dunn, who has been with DLDE since their formation. "He wanted 50 gopies in the dance, but we've never had the stage to have that many before. Now we can have 36 gopies."
Krishna Lila has been performed as a more intimate dance, using extensive facial expressions and hand mudras (traditional Indian symbolic gestures). As Krishna Lila moves into the Astrodome, the dance itself is expanding. "Krishna Lila has become much simpler, much bigger," said Gayle Behrman, who adapted the dance for the Astrodome. "We're using much more body movement and patterns of choreography to express the dance."
Besides the expanded choreography for Krishna Lila, costumes have been brought from India for this production. Rajistani skirts and veils, the authentic costume of the period, are worn by the 36 gopies in six colors, and Radha is dressed in her own color. The colors form an integral part of the choreography and are used to achieve a kaleidescopic effect in the mandala dance. Krishna is dressed in the traditional costume pictured in religious paintings of India.
"Basically, we're creating a new sort of theatre which we're calling Astrotheatre," said Glenna Dumay, instructor for the dancers. "We have to use space and color as a pattern, and body tension instead of facial expressions to communicate a mood. We can't use intimacy to express devotion, we have to use the nobility of size. Yet we still must be perfect in the smallest detail, both for media interest and to make our larger movements also perfect. If your foot is out of line, it throws your whole body off, and it sticks out like a sore thumb in the Dome."
Though the dance has changed since its conception, the music remains the same. A blend of Eastern and Western tradition, the expanded orchestra uses sitar, tabla, and tamboura with guitar, cello, and string bass to create the unique sound of Krishna Lila. A pair of flutes, instruments common to both East and West, play the melody line.
After this festival, the troupe will continue to tour with Krishna Lila, "Krishna Lila is like a flower unfolding one petal after another," said Randy Rosenthal, who dances Radha. "As our devotion to Guru Maharaj Ji grows, we discover more and more what this dance should be. The dance we will perform in the Dome will be a lot different from the dance we did before, and as we come to love Guru Maharaj Ji with fuller hearts, so Krishna Lila comes closer to being the perfect dance."
Out of inspiration from a meditation, Erika Andersen, wrote the opening of what was to develop into a major choral work. "I had never written anything so large before," she said, "and yet, it seemed to just flow out of me." The next day she left New York for Houston.
As Erika left New York, 2,000 miles away in Houston, Rennie Davis, general coordinator of Millennium '73, had a vision of a choir singing an oratorio celebrating Guru Maharaj Ji. He suggested that a chorale be written, but there was no one to write it.
Erika arrived less than a week later and met Rennie. "The first part of her choral work was written less than 24 hours before my dream, and was exactly what I wanted," he recalls. Erika immediately began to develop the work into a full-scale oratorio. "It's an impossible task for a young composer with limited experience," she said, "but the oratorio unfolded like a flower as I worked. It was written entirely by the Grace of God."
A choir was assembled in Houston in August from all over the country and parts of Europe and began to rehearse the oratorio.
As the call went out across the country to locate musicians for the small chamber orchestra called for in the score, Shri Bhole Ji arrived in Houston with his 50-piece band, Blue Aquarius. After meeting with Bhole Ji, Erika began to restore the oratorio for a larger orchestration, including pairs of woodwinds, four trumpets, four French horns, three trombones, a tuba and tympani with the full string section. The choir swelled to sixty voices and the work, entitled In The Beginning Was The Word, will have its world premiere on the Millennium stage.
The oratorio, written in modern classical style, is divided into two parts. The first half, which opens with quotes from several scriptures, tells the story of the Holy Family, and the second half presents important satsangs of Guru Maharaj Ji since he became Satguru at the age of eight. With a theme for each member of the Holy Family and the use of a C-major chord to represent the Word of God, the development of the music presents interwoven themes and texts throughout, concluding with a final reiteration of the Word in the coda.
"We're here as community servants," said Peter Harding of the World Peace Corps, "we're here to help out."
The WPC is a division of Divine Light Mission, functioning internationally to keep all programs running smoothly. Usually, they are responsible for everything from cleaning the sat- sang halls to running service activities. At Millennium '73, there are whole departments to clean the Astrodome or operate the clinic, and the WPC serves largely to help the participants. They are seen around the Astrodome as ushers and guides, finding lost children, helping the clinic in emergencies, directing people traffic, and simply answering questions. With WPC on duty around the clock, they also service the hotels and special locales throughout Houston. The WPC are identifiable by armbands so that anyone who needs help knows who to ask. "We're here to keep everything flowing smoothly," said Peter.
Using WPC members from all over America and Europe, the Corps also provides security for Guru Maharaj Ji and the Holy Family. All WPC are trained in crowd control to facilitate guiding the large masses of people at the festival and avoid crushes, particularly at dinner or at the end of the program as people search for their bus or car.
Besides the WPC, there are a number of aids available to festival participants. The international guests, particularly, are helped by a multi-lingual staff. Each one of the 35 charters from foreign countries has a captain who cares for the members of his flight, and in each hotel, a bilingual member of the Millennium information staff is available. In the Astrohall, too, a special area is manned by a multi-lingual staff to answer questions and provide service. Should a foreign visitor grow ill and need to visit the clinic, a Millennium translator accompanies him. Translation of parts of the program, such as the DUO proclamation of the third day, are provided to the international delegation, and those with special circumstances or disabilities, such as pregnancy or physical handicaps, receive special care.
Many participants at the festival have questions, and for them, a central information booth in the Hall, three in the Dome, and information tables at the hotels and airport provide up-to-date answers to all festival-related questions. Just as large signs identify the information areas, specially designed signs, all featuring the Millennium hand and rainbow, point the way to food, housing, Divine Sales, and buses. Anyone in Houston looking for information on Millennium need only find a sign with the distinctive logo and they're well on their way.
Other community services, such as an area for mothers to rest with their children and extensive clinic facilities are located in the Hall. Anyone with any problems or questions can find what they need in the Hall, whether it is a question of language, illness, or just curiosity.
"We want to make this festival a success for everyone," said Peter, of WPC, "we want everybody to be comfortable and happy."