Philip Glass’s Call to Arms

Satyagraha1midsize Over at Jewcy, Jay Michaelson reviews Philip Glass’s Satyagraha:

Satyagraha tells, in non-linear and largely non-verbal fashion, the story of Gandhi’s struggles on behalf of South Africa’s Indian population. During the course of this twenty-year fight for civil rights, he developed the philosophy and political tactics he would eventually use to liberate India from British colonialism. These tactics went on to inspire Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and other liberators around the world. But in this period, they were still a work in progress, paid for in risk and blood.

Satyagraha juxtaposes symbolic stagings of key episodes in Gandhi’s struggle with Sanskrit quotations from the Bhagavad Gita, among the most sacred texts of Hinduism. While to some this may seem an obvious choice, it is actually a curious one, as much of the Gita is about why its hero, Arjuna, must go to battle. It’s hardly a nonviolent text.

Yet it is a text, perhaps above all, about knowing and fulfilling one’s holy mission, of virtue in the face of adversity, of duty and moral responsibility. This is why Satyagraha appealed to me as “Jewish”: not because of its composer’s ethnicity, but because it captures the power of sacred text to inspire sacred action.