Monday, June 10, 2013

DEMONSTRA Production notes: Nang Thorani, or Mae Thorani

Sachamwe amatta wacha, สจฺจํเว อมตา วาจา, "Truth is indeed the undying word..."

As we prepare for DEMONSTRA, this week, Vongduane is working on Nang Thorani, who, like everyone else, goes by many different names in many different regions: Wathondara, Preah Thorani, Phra Mae Thorani, Suvathara, or Sowathara. etc.

In one description:

'The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara's challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva's right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment..."

We can find her in many different images in temples around the world, although I will argue that some presentations seem more apt than others, with varying degrees of modesty and skill in the way her sculptures and murals are executed.

Vongduane and I wanted to present a new take on her that goes beyond the typical poses we've seen her in, and one that remains true and respectful to her nature, but extends our understanding of her, much as we've done with our interpretation of Gop Nyai, the Frog Who Eats the Moon:

"Why does the 'frog' want to eat the moon? Why do we take it seriously enough to bang the drums and shoot off fireworks to frighten him off? Why do we constantly have to chase him off instead of finishing that frog off, once and for all?" among other questions.

Part of what's informing our approach to Nang Thorani is understanding that the armies of Mara absolutely want to stop the Buddha from attaining enlightenment. They're not holding anything back. But when the Buddha summons her, she doesn't even really bat an eye sweeping away all of the forces of illusion and darkness rising up against the Buddha. One twist, -ONE- and all of them are swept away like an insignificant pest. That's not small power.

But we're also going with the sense that she's the spirit of the Earth. That she chose a 'human' form was NOT the only option available to her, and she's more than capable of manifesting in other forms, some more terrifying, others wondrous, etc. We also want to break away from traditional stereotypes of Lao beauty, and even human beauty. What's utterly beautiful to an earth spirit?

"DON'T mess with Nang Thorani," is an interesting artistic challenge because it's an exploration of cosmic power and energy where, as we see in the classic sculptures, she doesn't even break a sweat. She's a force of nature that doesn't get mad or full of fury, like a Nyakinee, but one who is capable of effortless victory.

But as you're aware, we're also approaching this from a Lovecraftian perspective, so part of the questions we're asking is: Could she take on a Great Old One and Elder God? When we see the images of Cthulhu trapped beneath R'Lyeh, forbidden to emerge from his sunken prison unless the stars are right, I think we have our answer.

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