“Who is the hero of the piece, Sir Modava?” asked Mr. Woolridge, who was a theatre-goer at home.
“He is really Vishnu, one of the Hindu trinity, known as the preserver. Vishnu has a considerable number of forms, or incarnations, one of which is Krishna, the most human of them all.”
The curtain rose, and cut short the explanation. The scene, painted on canvas, was an Indian temple. A figure with an enormous wig, his half-naked body daubed all over with yellow paint, was seated before it, abstracted in the deepest meditation. The interpreter told them it was Rishi, a supernatural power, a genius who is a protector to those who need his services. Then a crowd of gods and goddesses rushed on the stage, and each of them made a long speech to the devotee-god, which Sir Modava had not time to render into English, even with the aid of Sahib Govind.
The actors were fantastically dressed. One had an elephant’s head, and all of them wore high gilt mitres. Krishna enters, and the other divinities make their exit. He is a nice-looking young man, painted blue, and dressed like a king. His wife enters, and throws herself at his feet. Then she reproaches him for forsaking her, in a soft and musical voice, her eyes raining tears all the time. She embraces his knees.
Then appears the rival in her affections with Krishna, Rukmini, an imperious woman, and tells by what artifices she has conquered the weak husband. Then follows a spirited dialogue between the two women. The rival boasts of her descent from Vishnu, and of her beauty and animation, and reproaches Krishna with his unworthy love. Sir Modava wrote this down in his memorandum book, and handed it to the Americans.
Satyavama, the wife, insists that her only crime was her love for her divine husband. She narrates her early history, when she was a peasant girl on the banks of the Jumna, with her companions, and drew upon herself the attention of the god. Her life had been simple, and she had always been a faithful wife. Yet Rukmini triumphs over her. Her pride is aroused; she rushes off, and returns with her little son.
“Kill us both, since we cannot live without your love!” the interpreters rendered her piteous cry. The rival ridicules her, and, urged on by her, Krishna hands her a cup of poison, which she drinks, and sinks to the ground.
“It is not the poison that rends me; it is that my heart is broken by the ingratitude of one I have so dearly loved.” She forgives him, and dies.
But not thus does the Indian love-story end; for the genie enters, and in thundering tones calls Krishna to an account for his deeds. The festive god is tortured with remorse, but has no excuse to offer. He drives Rukmini from him, and implores the yellow-painted god for forgiveness; and, as he is the preserver, it is granted. Satyavama is brought back to life. She presents her son to her husband, who holds out his arms to embrace him; and the curtain drops in a blaze of Bengal lights, and the “Wah! Wahs!” of the Hindu audience.