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The Rasa Lila
- Harsha V Dehejia, Canada
Images courtesy: Harsha V Dehejia

November 17, 2009

This universe is a wheel.
Upon it
are all creatures that are subject to
birth, death and rebirth.
Round and round it turns
and never stops.
It is the wheel of Brahman.
As long as
the individual self thinks it is
separate from Brahman, it revolves upon
the wheel in bondage to the laws
of birth, death, and rebirth.
But when
through the grace of Brahman
it realizes its identity with him
it revolves upon the wheel no longer.
It achieves immortality.
Svetasvatara Upanishad.

It has rightly been said that dance is the art form par excellence that best reflects the human condition, for dance reflects a state of being or human consciousness at the highest order of both sensual evocation and spiritual discipline. The concept of movement and stillness, the circle and the centre, as paradigms of life and ultimate reality, appear early in the Indian tradition and the passage from the Svetasvatara seem to presage the many circular dances that exist both as theatrical performances and artistic representations and especially the rasa lila of Krishna.

Dance is primal and through its movement, captures certain cosmic truths. Of all the dances the rasa lila of Krishna is a central and defining event in the Puranas and especially in the dashama skanda of Srimad Bhagavata Purana, which not only brings Krishna's romantic association with the gopis to a climax but one in which he expresses his bheda abheda, identity and difference, a persona and a theological concept that is the quintessential position of Vaishnavism. In Vaishnava thought, as opposed to Shaivism, Vishnu is not just transcendent but immanent, not a distant divinity but a god in our midst, for he participates in the lives and rhythms of mankind, giving freely of himself to each and every one and ensuring that he is lovingly and completely available to his devotees; as samsara evolves he remains totally involved in their lived lives, holding aloft the Govardhan mountain under which samsara can find security and sustenance and more than any other godhead Vishnu through his avatara of Krishna, conveys the true meaning of love.

Badal Mahal, Bundi

The rasa lila of Krishna and the gopis is a dance of eternal and divine love, a love that leads to self-knowledge and it is neither a narrative dance or a dance of mere romantic pleasures. It is a dance of movement and not of stance, it is a dance of heart felt feelings and not of abhinaya, it is a dance not only of emotion but of transformation, it is a dance not merely of the affirmation of love but of its inner understanding, it is a dance not of superficial exultation but of a deep and inner realisation, it is a dance of heart throbbing sensuality that leads the chastened mind to serene spirituality and not just romantic thrill and excitement, it is a dance in time and space that takes the dancer to beyond both time and space. Among the many lilas of Krishna there is scriptural evidence and ancient inscriptions that the rasa lila may have been an actual theatrical performance much before it appeared in miniature paintings and possibly even before it was incorporated in the sacred texts. This suggests not only its antiquity but even more its primal and universal expression of the human condition. Of all of Krishna's lilas, the rasa lila stands differently and must be understood initially within the context of shringara bhakti but even beyond as a form of yoga and atma jnana or self knowledge, for Krishna's flute is not just music but a call to eternity, his sensual love a doorway to a love transcendent, his very being an invitation to self realisation.

Kapila Vatsyayan writes:
It is thus evident that between the period of Harivamsha (latest date suggested third century AD)
and Shrimad Bhagavata (about 10th century AD) on the one hand and the Sanskrit kavyas and
natakas on the other, the Krishna theme, and the rasa in particular, was known to many parts of India
and constituted a key motif of mythological, poetic and dramatic writing. (p. 174)
Although the rasa lila does not find mention in the Natyashastra, it is a part of Harivamsha and the Vishnu Purana; however after its inclusion in the Bhagavata, it was an important part of texts on aesthetics, which suggests that the rasa, which existed in times ancient as a distinct category of performance assumed aesthetic importance only in the medieval period and becomes foundational in Vaishnava thought because of the dashama skanda of the Bhagavata. The Bhagavata exhorts devotees of Vishnu to:

listen with faith stories of my life that purify the world
singing and remembering and enacting my deeds and incarnations
sraddhalur mat-katah srnavam subhadra loka pavanih
gayann anusmaran karma janma caabhinayan muhuh
Bhagavata Purana 11.11.23

It is interesting to note that Jain texts of this period also mention the rasa. From then on circular dances called variously rasa, rasaka, hallishaka and charchari were well known and discoursed in texts on dance and music. It has been suggested that "the hallishaka (out of all the circular dances) mentioned in the Harivamsha denoting a circular dance of many women around one man, may have been the earliest." (P. 174) The rasa became an important part of the literature of the bhashas and thus entered the pushtimarg Vaishnava tradition particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan and equally in Bihar and Orissa and was subsequently taken to Assam and Manipur when Vaishnavism spread there. However, Vrindavana remained the hub of the Bhagavata faith and Vaishnavas from all parts of India gathered there to celebrate the love of Krishna and returned to their homes and carried the rasa, in all its theatrical richness with them. The dancing and the fluting Krishna became the leitmotif of Vaishnava literature across the country and it is not surprising that artists in Rajput courts were greatly touched by it. We are here mainly concerned with the painted rasa lila and not so much with its representation in the other arts, although in a sense they cannot be separated as one feeds on the other.

Pichhwai, 19th century, Tapi Collection


Rasa is not only ancient but equally primal and is reminiscent of the ghotul of the tribals where young men and women gather on a full moon night for romantic and erotic pleasures, reminding us that the Krishna of the Bhagavata belongs as much to the adivasis as to the sophisticates, that the rasa is the coming together of the many streams of knowledge, the northern Vedantic stream of transcendence, the southern Tamilian stream of ecstasy and the autochthonous stream of erotic pleasures.

The rasa pancha dhyayi of the Bhagavata Purana begins on this important note:

bhagavan api ta ratrihi shardotphulla mallikah
viksya rantum manas chakre yogamayam upashritah. 29.1
Krishna seeing those nights in autumn filled with jasmine flowers in bloom
Turned his mind toward love's delights fully taking refuge in Yogamaya's illusive powers.

And Surdas echoes the same sentiment when he says:

Sur ke prabhu rasika ke mani rachyo rasa pratapu
Sura's god, the jewel among rasikas has staged a magnificent dance. Sur Sagara 1866

The jasmine flowers, variously called malati, mallika, jati and yuthika define the sensuality of the romantic nights in which the rasa unfolds. Its fragrance excites and allures the gopis. As the Bhagavata states:

The garland of jasmine worn by Krishna
is tinged with reddish kumkum powder
coming from the breasts of his beloved whom he has embraced
its scent is blowing in our direction. RL2.8

If the jasmine evokes sensuality, the night blooming lotus suggests spirituality:

Seeing the lotus flowers bloom and the perfect circle of the moon
beaming like the face of Rama reddish as fresh kumkum
He began to make sweet music
melting the hearts of fair maidens with beautiful eyes. RL1.3

The first and an important point in the commencement of the rasa lila is Krishna's flute inviting the gopis for the dance. In this invitation is the tacit presumption that the gopis are the perfect bhaktas, that the time is right for them to move their shringara rasa to a higher level of shringara bhakti and it is Krishna's flute that invites them to begin that period of transformation. The gopis wait till they are called, underscoring the important dictum that it is god who chooses his bhakta and not the other way around. They had assembled nightly for their rasa on the banks of the Yamuna but tonight was sharada purnima and it was different. Krishna's flute is not just music but an invitation to the yoga of love, in its melody there is a beckoning to move the mind from sensuality to spirituality, in its sweet notes there is a call to transform the mundane time bound samsara to a world of eternity, in its sound there is the allure of the higher domains of love. Without that call of Krishna's flute, the gopis would remain in the limited world or prakriti and unable to taste the vast and boundless purusha.

Chamba Ruma, 20th century, Dehejia Collection

After the sensually rich and emotionally fulfilling romantic dalliance, Krishna in the rasa Panchadhyayi, or the five chapters within the dashama skanda of the Bhagavata devoted to rasa lila, invokes his powers of Yogamaya to accomplish the next step in the evolution of the beautiful love between him and the gopis. The word Yogamaya is to be understood here neither as yoga nor as maya; the yoga of Krishna in the Bhagavata is not to be taken in the Patanjali sense of the ashtanga yoga and neither is maya to be taken to mean illusion or negation. The love of Krishna and the gopis is too beautiful to be illusory, it has a reality all its own. Rather, Yogamaya is that capacity of Krishna to move the mind of the gopi from matters sensual to the domain of the spiritual, to make them realise that love in its sensual aspects is limited by time and space for sensual love is after all a manifestation of prakriti, but that there is a love above and beyond that can transcend these material limitations and that is brought about by turning to the revelation and understanding of purusha that is also a part of us. Krishna's task is to make the gopis realise that if prakriti is a function of this body and mind, purusha is very much a part of that same mind except that it is hidden and that both prakriti and purusha are ultimately within their own inner selves. Krishna undertakes to show this relationship between prakriti and purusha by the loving intimacy between him and the gopis and not by prescribing any ascetic rites or religious rituals, for that would be against the whole tenor of the Bhagavata and the love of Krishna, but instead by pointing to the strength and the beauty of shringara in its transformation to shringara bhakti and this he does by inaugurating a grand festival of love through the rasa lila.

The rasa is now ready to begin. It is a beautiful full moon night in sharada when the moon seems so much bigger and closer, red like fresh saffron; when the sky is clear and the waters of the Yamuna are limpid, it is a time of the year when the autumnal light is luminous, when the earth trembles with excitement of a rich harvest, when night blossoming jasmine and the blue lotus are radiant and there is a certain expectancy in the air, and when along with the earth the heart throbs, romantic feelings pulsate and the mind reaches out for amorous embraces and a mood of romantic anticipation and longing is everywhere, visible and palpable, as Krishna plays his flute and beckons the gopis to join him in the rasa dance. The gopis resemble flashes of lightning engulfed by Krishna who looks like a ring of dark clouds.

The Bhagavata says:

The night sky with its bright stars and white cloudless sky was like the intellect
which is all sattva guna...the rivers..were flowing softly and very gently. The very air
was perfumed with the scent of flowers which began to bloom again.
Vrindavana was drenched in beauty.

    In the words of Surdas:

    The place where the rasa dance was held was sprinkled with saffron.
    The dust of the earth there acquired the perfume of camphor.
    The spot was full of beautiful flowers of different colours. (P. 257)

      And further:

      O Mother
      It was like lightning flashing cloud to black cloud
      Lightning amidst cloud and cloud amidst lightning
      Shyam gleaming black amidst the fair girls of Braj
      And the jasmine scent on the Yamuna bank
      heavy in the autumn eve
      The forms of our bodies lit by the moon
      Its liquor in every limb
      Passion's dance led by passion's prince
      and the village girls roused to joy!
      And he, form of all forms
      a black cloud clouding our mind with his bliss
      We danced like birds
      like parrot and peacock and sparrow and finch
      darting like the fish, stately like the elephant
      O Sur which of us can say what it was like with Mohan
      Enchantress, enchanted by the enchanter.

      The rasa lila is not a mere dance for entertainment or recreation, nor just a romantic activity. Vallabhacharya is emphatic about Krishna's intentions in participating in this and says that the main purpose of this rasa lila is to create and manifest shringara rasa in the gopis.

      rasasya abhivyaktihi yasmat it
      rasa pradur bhavartham esa hi nrtyam.
      Subhodini.V.2 commentary

      Kota, 17th century, Dehejia collection

      On that full moon night, the earth of Vrindavana came alive and was blessed, the gods gathered in the sky and showered petals, as peacocks danced, animals were motionless and entranced, the cows stopped grazing, waters stopped flowing to stop and listen and Krishna got ready for the dance by playing on his flute. This was no ordinary dance but a festival of love, a mandala of Krishna and the gopis, where love was felt, exchanged, understood and realised in all its depths and Vrindavana on that night where the love of Krishna unfolds does not remain merely terrestrial but becomes mythic. As Krishna's flute is heard, the gopis leave their homes and husbands, their tasks and duties unfinished, abandoning their families and joining hands they hurriedly form a circle around him. This circle of clasped hands is no ordinary space, but a charmed and magical space, for it encloses within its security, the love and the person of Krishna. Vastushastra or the science of space dictates that a circle among all geometric shapes is very special for within a circle everything is contained and nothing escapes, it is an enclosure of security and comfort, it is a paradigm of the earth that moves in a circular orbit, for it is only a circle that can move within linear time but at the same time point to a timeless movement. Within the circle of the rasa, there is movement which defines linear time with the rhythm of the gopi's feet and the clapping of the hands but points to a circular time through a movement which is timeless; the movement of the circle is a movement that mimics that of the earth that brings in not only day and night but the changing of the seasons; the movement of the rasa also defines space but since it is a movement around a still centre where Krishna presides, it therefore points to the infinite and limitless cosmos.

      The circular dance of the gopis is like the movement of the earth around the radiant sun, a sun that gives freely of its energy and light, where every gopi feels connected to Krishna just like a spoke of a wheel to its centre, and every living being on earth to the sun. The rasa is not merely a dance but is a paradigm of the earth and its movements, its rhythms and sounds, but it is even more. There in the rasa a pulsating, throbbing rasa, as eyes meet and hands are clasped and as every gopi experiences Krishna, there is within her an amorous delight, a joyous thrill, an excitement and a fulfillment, a realisation of the pleasure of togetherness with each other and with Krishna, a pleasure that is shared by the blossoms and the birds of all of Vrindavana. When the gopis gather and join hands and form a circle they are expressing their commonality, they are stating that this is a satsang, a gathering of like minded people in the pursuit of something supra-mundane, and that they are about to bring their love to a climax, their shringara rasa is about to be transformed into shringara bhakti and finally to rest in the samadhi of shringara. The rasa lila thus becomes no mere dance but a yoga of shringara and like all other yogas leads to ultimate knowledge.

      Delhi-Agra, 1525-40, Philadelphia Museum of Art

      There is in the rasa lila for the gopis not only an aura of fulfillment of their love but of completeness of their own being; there is for them in the rasa no more longing but total belonging, for as Krishna positions himself in the centre of the circle, looking like a resplendent sapphire set in gold, the gopis feel a sense of physical and emotional proximity with him and with each other. The circle of the gopis has converted the chaotic space of the world into the enchanted space of the rasa; it is a space where there is no emotional and intellectual fragmentation but only a holistic oneness, no separation but oneness, no individuality but universality, where they have all come together in loving adoration of Krishna. It is only within a circular formation that this can happen, where every gopi is connected with each other and equidistant from Krishna. Krishna is no longer distant or truant but he is there right in their midst, connected equally with them, to sing and dance, to feel and to touch, and to know and to love and to ensure that the ecstasy of shringara moves from love to bhakti, from movement to stillness and from sensuality to spirituality. There is in the rasa no pain of emptiness in the minds of the gopis and neither is there the longing of viyoga but the pleasure and ecstasy of samyoga. The entire event is informed by the eye of love, the eye that drinks amour and is the doorway to the mind, of the mind where sensual love is affirmed and enjoyed and later consummated by the mind of the mind into spiritual realisation. This is the perfection and the climax of love; like the parikramana or the circumambulation of the devotee at the end of his visit to a temple, the rasa is the peak of love's ascent, the climax of love's aspirations.

      It is significant that the Bhagavata describes Krishna looking like a resplendent emerald set in a ring of gold. The natural colour of Krishna is the blue black of the clouds of ashadha but after the amorous dalliance with the gopis, and as the rasa lila begins, he assumes the colour green, that of emerald. Krishna has changed, his colour is now not blue but green, because of the influence of the golden hue of the gopis. He has not only given his love to the gopis but has in equal measure received love from the gopis and this has transformed him, and this the Bhagavata shows through the change in colour. Even Krishna is not immune from the boundless love of the gopis which underscores another important Vaishnava tenet that not only do the avataras of Vishnu descend to earth and are a part of the lived lives of their devotees, but are in the process touched, transformed and conquered by their love. Krishna is not distant and impregnable, for he admits tat priyam priyah, I am your beloved; he is neither aloof and uninvolved, but the stream of love and longing flows equally from the gopis to Krishna and from Krishna back to the gopis, it is a love where the circle is drawn to the centre and the centre in turn gives of itself to the movement of the circle; god and the devotee are equal partners in the dance of love. Thus it is that Krishna is green in colour during the rasa lila, and this motif becomes another example of how merely through the use of colours, the poet and the artist can express the many shades and nuances, the depth and the meaning of Krishna's love. Bilvamangala describes Krishna thus:

      I do homage to the large emerald
      the central stone in the necklace of milkmaids
      and the only ornament in the whole world
      which adorns the jar like breasts of Lakshmi.

      In the Caitanya Caritramrita, Ramananda speaks to Chaitanya and says: "His sweetness increases when mingling with the goddesses of Vraja."

      Jaipur, 19th century, National Museum, Delhi

      The circular movement of the gopis around an unmoving centre of Krishna has obvious cosmic significance, and the rasa can also be understood as a yantra, the circle representing samsara and the centre is the unmoving brahman, and the space of the rasa is as much romantic as it is sacred, and thus the rasa becomes a living and cosmic mandala. In this mandala of love, there are centripetal forces as the gopis in their circular frenzy are drawn to Krishna and Krishna at the still centre of the movement becomes the bindu, the source of primordial energy, like the sun around which the universe revolves, to which the earth is attracted but cannot unite as long as there is movement. As long as there is movement, the gopis are in dvaita and the bondage of love, radiant and reverberating, but tied and not yet free, caught in the play of forces of the circle and the centre, waiting for the supreme moment of freedom, the climax of love, and this cannot come until the gopis are in a circular formation.

      While the rasa lila takes place within the limitations of time and space yet there are suggestions that the rasa dance takes place in time that is beyond time, it is a sacred time, and the full moon of sharada becomes the night of Brahma, where there is fullness and no fragmentation, just being not becoming, where man and god are not divided or distant but in one blissful embrace and the sacredness of this remains as long as the gopis are interlocked with each other, their hands clasped, protecting the space within from the profanity of the world. In the Sursagar of Surdas, we find this description of the night of Brahma:

      Krishna used the yoga illusion and his body became many parts
      To all, he gave them the pleasure they wished
      sport and the highest affection
      As many gopis as were there just so many bodies Krishna assumed
      And taking all of them on the terrace of the dancing ring
      again began to dance and sport.
      And there was such harmony of ragas and raginis
      that hearing it wind and water no longer flowed
      And the moon together with the starry firmament being astonished
      rained down nectar with its rays
      Meanwhile night advanced, then six months had passed
      And no one was aware of it
      From that time the name of the night has been the night of Brahma.

      Brahmavaivarta Purana, Assam, 1836, India Office, British Library

      Richard Lannoy writes:

      The ecstasy of (romantic) rapture promises continuity of being. We so profoundly
      long to experience that state of being which links us with the all. The condition of man
      is to yearn for a flowing harmonious togetherness, a communion with others. Through
      religion man seeks to restore the lost continuity, the vanished unity of being, of oneness
      with the all. The universe longs to regain its primordial state of oneness and seeks to
      reverse the fragmentation. Everything real and actual in any meaningful sense concerning
      the living stream of Indian religion can only be understood from a viewpoint of receptivity
      that is participative. The fundamental continuity, the flowing coalescence of all things,
      washes over us like the waves of a warm ocean.

      Lannoy's words apply perfectly to the rasa where through the circular dance the gopis go from the many to the one, from the fragmentation of linearity to the wholeness of circularity, from profane individuality to sacred togetherness, a moving away from isolation to communion, an assertion that emotional ecstasy that the gopis feel, and not ascetic rites nor contemplative withdrawal, is the pinnacle of their being and the finest expression of their love for Krishna. There is in the coming together of the gopis and the joining of hands to form a circle, while Krishna is the centre, an expression of commonality and unity in the midst of plurality. This is the samsara of multiple individuals but yet tied to the one Krishna, a Krishna that is approached through love and not rites. This is the stage of samuha bhakti, a communal bhakti, a demonstration of an entire community that is tied with the silken threads of love and devotion to Krishna. However communal bhakti must eventually lead to individual bhakti. And as the dance proceeds and Krishna duplicates himself and positions himself so that there is a Krishna between each gopi, Krishna converts that plurality into duality, as each gopi is with her own Krishna and the stage of personal bhakti sets in.

      Bilvamangala describes this in an oft repeated verse:

      anganam anganam antare madhavo
      madhavam madhavam ca antarena angana
      ittham akalpite mandale madhya gah
      samjagau venuna devaki nandanah
      Krishna Karanamrtam II. 35
      Between every pair of lovely maidens was a Madhava
      and between every pair of Madhava was a lovely maiden
      At the centre of those thus
      assembled in the mandala
      the son of Devaki sang and played
      his flute.

      Kota,17th century, Dehejia collection

      This is a moment of ineffable love and radiance, a time of great religious and aesthetic significance. It is a moment of wonder, of magic, of ecstatic adoration, on a one to one basis. Yet this is only a penultimate stage of shringara bhakti. Finally when Krishna leaves and the rasa comes to an end, and when each gopi finds that Krishna is not in front of them but in the intimacy of their own minds, this is the samadhi and the vishranti of bhakti, it is the perfect stillness of bhakti, when saguna bhakti has changed into nirguna bhakti; form has become formlessness; it is that advaitic moment of the perfection of love, where all movement has ceased and there is perfect stillness, there is no longer an adoration but just the realisation that to love Krishna is to become serenely Krishnamaya, full of Krishna, when there is no gopi and Krishna but Gopikrishna, not two but one, in a state of blissful unity.

      Krishna's presence has converted Vrindavana on that full moon night into a celestial paradise and even the gods rain flowers on them to express their delight as gandharvas, the celestial musicians play music. Clearly there is the correspondence between the microcosm of the gopis and the macrocosm of Krishna, a connection between the earth and the sky, between the one and the many and the many to the ultimate One, a movement from the sensual to the spiritual, between prakriti and purusha. The rasa if properly understood, is a dance of transformation, of knowledge, of realisation, of divine intimacy, of love that moves to a perfect state of being. In the ultimate analysis, the rasa lila of Krishna is a lila with himself, as the gopis who are perfect devotees, are nothing but emanations of himself. In a passage in the Brihadaranayka Upanishad, we are told:

      "As all the spokes are connected both with the hub and with the rim,
      so are all creatures, all Gods, all worlds, all organs
      bound together in the soul."

      This cryptic Vedantic thought resonates well with the concept of the rasa lila.

      The rasa lila has also been described as the rasa mandala. Quite simply, a mandala is a group that find security in being together and bond together in pursuing a common cause. In a mandala, individuality is subverted to commonality, the person is less important than the group, and personal preferences give way to the good of the group and for a higher purpose. A mandala is also a visual diagram that attempts to do just that by creating visual forces which on deep contemplation shape the mind. Schweig correctly points out that "various mandala configurations and designs were incorporated in ancient sacrificial rites during the Vedic period because they were thought to be powerfully emblematic of the cosmos. Such configurations also functioned on a more internal level as an aid in various forms of yogic and tantric meditation, stimulating subtle energies within the body." (p. 174) The visual mandala is primarily a support for meditation and helps the process of reintegration of the alienated soul with the cosmic principle and thus becomes a yoga in its own right. The rasa lila of Krishna and the gopis is not just an ordinary mandala but a living mandala where the gopis transform their love for Krishna into a grand spectacle of dance, ostensibly for romantic pleasures, but Krishna ensures that the mandala, through the various steps of the rasa lila leads ultimately to self-awareness and knowledge. As Tucci has succinctly stated:

      The representation of the divine cycles in the form of a mandala is
      not the result of arbitrary construction, but the reflection in appropriate paradigms
      of personal intuitions. By an almost innate power the human spirit translates
      into visual terms the eternal contrast between the essential luminosity of its
      consciousness and the forces which obscure it. From this process cognition is acquired."
      (P. 36 The Theory and Practice of the Mandala, London, 1961)

      As the tempo of the rasa grows faster, their frenzied rhythm attracts the envy of the gods gathering in their celestial cars to watch the event. In some artistic representations Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are shown watching the proceedings with great delight. A legend from Vrindavana tells of the time when Shiva wanted to join the rasa and Krishna agreed as long as Shiva dressed and behaved as a gopi. Shiva agreed but when the rasa ended, he beat a hasty retreat into the forest and in the process lost the clothes of the gopis that he had worn. The next morning a linga appeared at that spot, which is present even today and devotees worship it with and adorn it with the odhanis of the gopis.

      Drawing, 19th century, Rajasthan

      The rasa brings to a halt the course of the moon and the planets which are filled with wonder and they halt in their orbits to watch the beauty of the dance "so that the night was longer than other nights." When the elements "stood still… the night was prolonged so that six months passed away, whence that night was named Brahma's night." In this moment of eternity when time stands still, the maharasa becomes an event of primordial belief as the earth and the sky are united in mithuna to the beat of the whirl of the rasa. There is in this mandala, the one and the many, dvaita searching the advaita, love reaching out for the supreme moment of union, of restless energy seeking for the bliss of rest, for time to stand still in the stillness of timelessness and for limited space to expand to the vastness of the infinite.

      The many nuanced and multi layered rasa lila is the climax of the romantic dalliance of the gopis but even more, it is an event of fundamental aesthetic and religious significance. It is here that the all important Vaishnava concept of shringara bhakti is brought alive, a concept that is then carried forward into the Vaishhnava sampradaya both at Nathadwara and Jagannatha.

      Spink is right in saying that Krishna's lila can be considered, ultimately, to be a lila of Krishna with himself, sva-pratibimba vibhramah or playing with his own reflection. The jiva or the gopis are a part of Krishna and Krishna was able to be with sixteen thousand gopis at once because of the power of his svarupa to be manifest in an infinite number of forms without any effect on his true nature. The rasa lila is ultimately about stillness and not about movement, for even though Krishna multiplies and takes part in the circular dance holding hands with gopis on both sides, he also stands at the still centre of the rasa; that is the source of energy, it is that unmoving centre which makes movement possible, and into which all movement must end. It is when Krishna leaves and the mandala is dissolved that movement leads to stillness, shringara to shringara bhakti, a group activity becomes a personal search for the ultimate meaning of love. It is Krishna's flute that ensures that the rasa takes place outside time and beyond space, in a time which is beyond time and in a space that converts the earthly gokul to the celestial goloka, where:

      there is neither night nor day
      there is continual pleasure
      flowers bloom eternally
      there are trees under which one may cool oneself and rest
      honey creepers grow in profusion
      and the bees are intoxicated by the fragrance of their white and golden flowers
      there is no death but eternal youth
      It is a place where there is no coming or going
      no becoming, where everything is stable
      and where therefore there is no deception or falsity
      There is no movement, no destruction
      The sun, the wind, the moon do not move
      and all mistiness of vision is destroyed.

      According to Vaishnava doctrine, the timeless and endless rasa lila of Krishna is the source of a stream of rasa that flows perpetually from the eternal Vrindavana to the earth and further it is this same rasa that flows as a stream of rasa to and between mankind. It is a timeless dance in which the divine and the human lose themselves in the rhythms, movements and melodies of pure love. It is only fitting that the rasa lila has been called sarva lila chuda mani, the crest jewel of all lilas of Krishna. The rasa lila is a river and a fountain which has no beginning and no end, it is a stream so broad that it has no other shore, it is an ocean of nectar and of youth, of life and vitality, of joy and bliss. To drink its waters is to find love and to be touched by its waters is to find freedom, to be blessed by it is to find divinity and to be nourished by it is to find oneself, for has it not been said rasa iva saha.

      Harsha V Dehejia
      Harsha V Dehejia has a double doctorate, one in medicine and the other in Ancient Indian Culture, both from Mumbai University. He is a practicing Physician and an Adjunct Professor of the Division of Religion in the College of Humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON., Canada. His special interest is in Indian Aesthetics. He has 12 books to his credit. He writes mostly on Krishna.

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