The Drama of Bilvamangala Thakur


[ Photos by Jaya Govinda dasa ]

Oct 24, VANCOUVER, CANADA (SUN) — Vaisnava Drama presented at Govardhana Puja, ISKCON Vancouver.

Those who attended ISKCON Vancouver's Govardhana Puja celebration this weekend had the great pleasure of watching an exceptionally good dramatic presentation. The pastimes of Bilvamangala Thakur in Vrindaban were presented by Vancouver's own thespian pandit, Bhakta Peter (Peter Konikow), the creative director behind most of the temple's theatrical projects. Bhakta Peter was joined by Gopal Figeretto, who very expertly and convincingly played the part of Sri Krsna.

The four-act play opened with a bent and craggy old Bilvamangala Thakur impatiently tapping his blind man's cane on the ground, calling out for anyone who could point him in the direction of Vrindavan. Unbeknownst to him, it was Krsna himself who appeared to advise him that he had already found his way to Vrindavan, quite literally.

The Lord immediately took great care of his devotee Bilvamangala, and the two shared hot milk and stories throughout the drama, during which time Bilvamangala poured out his heart to the charming young cowherd that had so fortunately befriended him. Gopal's portrayal of Krsna was very authentic, and he charmed everyone in the audience with his sweetness, innocence and simple beauty. Sri Krsna's makeup was very expertly done by the local prabhvis, and His bluish hue mystically shone beneath the temple's stage lights.

Near the end of the performance, Sri Krsna and Bilvamangala were joined onstage by two small cowherds and their very sweet, masked cow, as Krsna related the story of Govardhana hill to Bilvamangala. The pastime was music to Bilvamangala's ears. Throughout the play, he relished all manner of talk about the glories of Lord Krsna and His beautiful Vrindavan, explaining the philosophy to the young cowherd, and convincing him to take up the chanting of Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare | Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

This play was written in approximately 1981 by Sankirtana dasa (Andy Frankel), an original member of the Vaikuntha Players. Sankirtana dasa presently lives in the New Vrindaban community, where he is still active in the dramatic arts.

For Bhakta Peter, the role of Bilvamangala came quite naturally. He acted in this drama in Toronto in 1988, and again in 1991 when he performed the role as Krsna, with Locamangala dasa as Bilvamangala Thakur. Their performance was filmed by ITV, and the actors subsequently traveled around the US and India giving live performances of the play. Thanks to his great familiarity with both Krsna and Bilvamangala's roles, Bhakta Peter pulled the Vancouver performance together in less than one week - a fact that few in the audience would have believed.

Young Gopal prabhu seemed entirely relaxed in his role as Sri Krsna. With delightful smiles and rolling of the eyes, he was simultaneously kind, mischievous, soft-hearted, aloof, and disarmingly beautiful -- a fitting reflection of the Supreme Cowherd boy.

The pastimes of the great Vaisnava saint, Bilvamangala Thakur, are themselves inconceivable and need little dramatic emphasis in order to create a sense of awe amongst listeners. Bhakta Peter gave a great rendition of Bilvamangala's crossing the river in a raging storm, holding onto a dead corpse he thought was a log - all to take shelter of a prostitute on the other side. Having repeatedly fallen down due to the allurements of women, the Thakur finally became so distraught about the effect of Maya on his spiritual life that he poked out his own eyes so they would never again trick him into pursuing worldly material pleasures.

The musical score behind Sunday night's Vaisnava drama was a fittingly dramatic accompaniment to Bilvamangala's story - it was the soundtrack to "The Mission", performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The soundtrack was aptly described by one critic in this way:

    "You feel the human ache in the music, but at the same time sense the power of the human spirit as it rises above that which struggles to hold it down. It's a soundtrack that I play when I write and when I read. It's a soundtrack that I play when I seek moments of meditation and calm thought. I've even prayed while playing this music. It inspires mindfulness and deliberation; it stirs the creative spirit and empowers you to believe in the strength of your own imagination. It is one of the few soundtracks that make me want to become a filmmaker."

While originally written for a mundane drama, the "Mission" music was a perfect fit for the high drama of Bilvamangala's intense meeting with Sri Krsna in the groves of Vrindavan. And in true devotee fashion, Bhakta Peter took great pleasure in the thought that some 200 orchestra and chorale members got the benefit of a little devotional service, without even knowing it.

We look forward to the next Vancouver temple performance at the start of the new year. Hare Krsna!


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