Rasa Lila: The divine love-play

Sushmita Dutta

Woh hai Rangeela, Chail chabeela, Woh hai natkhat, woh jamunatat phere lagaye murli bajaye, Gopiyon ke sang raas rachaaye, Murli bajaiyaa raas rachaiyaa, shyam salona hai…...

Jo hai albela madnainowala….jiski deewani brij ki har bala woh kisna hai,woh kisna hai…….

The “sweet pastime” of Krishna

The above mentioned few lines actually bring out the entire meaning of the word Rasa Lila. The name comes from the Sanskrit words Rasa and Lila, with rasa meaning “juice”, “nectar”, "emotion" or "sweet taste" and Lila meaning "pastime".

If we take the word literally, "Rasa Lila" means “sweet pastime” (of Krishna). The term, Rasa means `emotion` or `performance` and Lila is a concept of Hinduism, which roughly translates to "play (Lila) of the dance (Rasa)," or more broadly as "Dance of Divine Love".

The “advent” of Rasa Lila

Rasa Lila took place on a beautiful night, when the ‘Gopis’ (milkmaids) of Vrindavan stealthily left their houses to go to the jungle on hearing the sweet sound of Lord Krishna’s flute. Lord Krishna then danced with gopis throughout the night that was stretched to the length of one Night of Brahma (a Hindu unit of time lasting approximately 4.32 billion years). In the Bhagavata Purana, it is stated that whoever hears or describes the Rasa Lila attains Krishna`s pure loving devotion.

Lord Krishna’s disappearance

However, the Gopis became bloated with pride and considered themselves superior to each other after performing Rasa Lila with Lord Krishna. One night during Rasa Lila, Lord Krishna did the disappearing act to remove the Gopis ego. On not finding Lord Krishna amongst them, they became extremely miserable and started praying to make him come back. They then sang songs now popularly known as Gopika Gitam. After which they started crying and fell silent. Shri Krishna returned smilingly, when he saw that the Gopis had learnt their lesson and had been cured of vanity. After which he blessed them with Maha Rasa.

The eternal love legend

Rasa Lila is based on the legendary love story of Radha Krishna. The loving interplay between God and the human soul is interpreted through Lord Krishna and his love play with the Gopis. The blissful love of Radha for Krishna can be seen as the soul’s wish to be one with the Almighty.

Though Radha never married Krishna, her love for him was so complete and pure that even today we worship Krishna alongwith Radha. This love story has been called ‘Rasa’ by the great Rishi Vyasa. All artists; be it a musician, painter or poet have been besotted with this love story.

The Divine Dance Form

The classical Manipuri dance presents the love story of Lord Krishna and Radha, his beloved, along with the cowherd girls in Vaishnavite style. It is the most beautiful presentation of Rasa Lila.

But in different parts of the country Rasa Lila is performed in different ways along with folk songs and devotional music. Usually Rasa Lilas are performed only by boys or boys disguised as girls.

Rasa Lila performances by Vaishnavas of Vrindavan are considered to be an out of the world experience. The eternal spiritual abode of Shri Radha Krishna, the Sakhis and Nitya Vrindavana Dham are described in the devotional songs, chanted during the performances.

Rasa Lila on Janmashtami

The Rasa Lilas form one of the most important aspects of Janmashtami. Nowadays boys in the age group of 10-13 perform these acts with main focus being on the formative years of Lord Krishna.

Rasa Lila has now attained such proportions that the devotees rush to touch the feet of the boy who plays the Lord. The young boy becomes the embodiment of Lord Krishna himself during the festival.

The holy Nidhi Ban

Seva Kunja and Nidhuban are gardens where Krishna performed many of his pastimes. It is believed that on the eve of Janmashtami, Krishna performs Rasa Lila with Radharani and other ‘gopis’ here. No one is allowed to stay inside after dusk because according to popular belief the Lord visits the spot with Sri Radha.

Seva Kunj is surrounded by temples. The Seva Kunja road leads to Srila Jiva Gosvami`s Radha Damodar Temple, Srila Syamananda Gosvami`s Radha Syamasundara Temple, and Srila Krishna Dasa Kaviraj Gosvami`s Radha-Vrindavan-Candra Temple.

At Nidhiban (Nidhuban, Nidhuvan), Krishna is said to have rested with his beloved Sri Radha. The shrine inside has a bed, which is decorated with flowers by the priest every evening. This divine dance form has continued to enthrall all across the centuries and continues to do so. There is nothing more pure than this dance that expresses passionate love for the Almighty.

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