Celebrating the world’s first Swami ‘pop star’ on stage

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Theatrical production explores the life of 19th century Indian philosopher Swami Vivekanda

Oneness – Voice Without Form’, a play based on the life of Swami Vivekananda, left the audience spellbound with the artists showcasing the various facets of the great spiritual leader’s extraordinary life. Staged recently at Opera house, it brought together theatre artistes from India and Australia.

The play centers around one man’s search for enlightenment that changes the world.

Swami Vivekananda was a 19th century Indian reformer, leader and mystic who introduced yoga, meditation and interfaith understanding to the West.

He inspired major historical and cultural figures as diverse as Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and The Beatles’ George Harrison with his teachings.

Brought to the stage in commemoration of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary, Oneness is written by award-winning Australian playwright Alex Broun, and co-directed by Broun and talented young Australian director Felicity Nicol, with vivid set and costume designs by Tobhiyah Feller and a poetic musical score by Dr Kim Cunio and Heather Lee.

The role of Swami Vivekananda was brought to life by renowned Bengali actor Shaheb Chatterjee supported by a cast of leading Australian actors including Bali Padda as Naren and leading Jordanian actress Dana Dajani as Sister Nivedita.

This enthralling play tells the extraordinary story of Swami Vivekananda, the humble Bengali boy who changed the world. Born into an aristocratic family in Calcutta, the young Narendra’s meeting with the guru Ramakrishna in November 1881 proved to be a turning point in his life.

From his early childhood in Calcutta to his epic speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, the plays tells the extraordinary story of the humble Bengali boy whose search for enlightenment changed the world.

From Ramakrishna he learnt that all living beings were an embodiment of the divine self and hence, service to God could be rendered by service to mankind. Given the name of Vivekananda, he gave up his worldly possessions and wandered the Indian subcontinent to acquire first-hand knowledge of the conditions that prevailed in British India.

In 1893, he met the Raja of Ramnad who became his disciple and urged Vivekananda to take his message to the west. Vivekananda visited several cities in Japan, China and Canada en route to the United States where he arrived in Chicago. Aided by Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University Vivekananda was invited to speak at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

As Wright famously said to Vivekananda, “To ask for your credentials (to speak) is like asking the sun to state its right to shine.” Vivekananda then began a tour of hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating tenets of Hindu philosophy in the United States, England and Europe.

The influence of Swami Vivekananda heralded the Vedanta philosophy into the modern world. In a world troubled by conflict, disharmony and selfishness, the message of harmony, unity and oneness is a crying need.

The ancient philosophy of Vedanta brings to us these simple truths to achieve global peace and harmony. The Swami was inspirational to many men and women of the 19th and 20th centuries and continues to be so even today.

As a part of the celebrations of 150th birth anniversary of the Swami, this play portrays the influence of his life and teachings on the modern world.

Broun said, “The biggest challenge in developing the play was what to include and what to leave out from the influential teachings and eventful life of Swami Vivekananda. His influence is not only huge to the world’s 2.4 billion of Hindus (the fastest growing faith in Australia according to the latest census with 275,000 currently identified here) but through the practice and philosophy of yoga, to many, many more. Accordingly the cast and crew features a wonderful multi-faith mix of Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian artistes.”

Guide to millions and — through his Order’s service to hospitals, schools and relief works–a saviour to millions more, the Swami emerged as the worlds’ first “pop star” in late 19th century America after his speeches at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He’s still a major influence in India with the Government sponsoring many commemorative events this year.

The play had thousands of performances internationally (including translations into Hindi, Kannada, Punjabi, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin) and this spectacular performance features a cast of ten outstanding Australian actors, chosen from more than 200 applicants from around Australia.

The play is part of a wider celebration sponsored by the Sarada Vedanta Society of Sydney and will also include seminars, workshops and more performances of the play in Brisbane at Bemac.

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