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SAN JOSE, Calif. — It was a show worthy of a Broadway stage. There were dance solos, fight scenes, acrobatics, comedy sequences and puppets. A fire-breathing dragon and a massive spider straight out of Harry Potter stole the show at Mount Madonna School’s 43rd production of the Ramayana! 

Cecily Kelly as Surpanakha during Mount Madonna School’s production of the Ramayana! Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

The annual production — performed at the Mexican Heritage Plaza here — had a two-year hiatus amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It was Gitanjali Rivera’s first time as director but not her first interaction with the epic tale itself. She had played the role of Princess Sita years before, when the Ramayana! had adult performers. Over the past 30 years the Ramayana! has been performed by the K-12 students who learn at the Mount Madonna School. 

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“It feels amazing to perform in front of a live audience,” said Rivera. “You can feel the difference.”

High school students who graduated in 2020 and 2021 did not have the opportunity to perform their senior year as they would have normally. During the cast circle, when all cast members gathered around backstage, Rivera encouraged alumni and performers to be considerate of those students who missed out on their senior year experience. 

A mechanical dragon from Mount Madonna School’s production of the Ramayana! Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

All the pomp and glitter did not take away from the main message, the teaching of the Ramayana to the students. “We try to teach the kids what Baba Hari Dass taught us,” said Rivera. “Every character in the Ramayana is a part of us, she said. “Every seed is in us.”

Sree Sripathy

Sree Sripathy is a writer, photographer and disability advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a 2022 CatchLight Local Fellow and part of the California Local Visual Desk program. Sree also...