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Raas Leela is an Indian folk dance emanating in the holy cities of Mathura and Vrindavan. It can be traced back to the Hindu sacred writings like the ‘Bhagavata Purana’. The Raas Leela has been immortalized by folklore where Lord Krishna dances with his love Radha and the Gopis. Legend has it that children would dance and play along the banks of Yamuna, but slowly they grew bored of it and stopped one day. Lord Krishna was upset by this change as he was very fond of watching them, so he decided to play music by his flute. Such mesmerizing was his music that the young people joined him and started dancing around him. Radha and Krishna also danced with them and it continued for the night. Since then, it was known as Raas Leela and is immensely popular to this day. Many dance forms have integrated the Raas Leela in their style to tell this beautiful story. This divine dance has often been infused in Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Odissi, and Manipuri dance forms. Raas Leela is sometimes enacted on Holi, as it was believed to be originally performed on the eve of Holi.
While performing ‘Raas Leela’, costumes are worn similar to those that were worn in Vrindavan. Men generally wear a yellow dhoti and cover their bodies with heavy jewelry as well as a turban having peacock feathers, as was worn by Lord Krishna. Women, on the other hand, wear ghagra- choli and drape a dupatta. Soft, rhythmic and melodious songs are played with drums and cymbals to give a complete performance. It is presented on large gardens or halls with decorated mandaps. There are a few institutes that train in this famous dance form. Raas Leela is also referred to as the ‘dance of love’, as it was first presented in Vrindavan with great purity and passion.
The Raas Leela is an important part of traditional Manipuri culture and its uniqueness can be seen in every aspect of the dance form, be it the costume or the moves Precious
According to the scriptures, one night Lord Krishna played his flute and the Gopis of Vrindavan joined him in a night of dancing. The term “Raas Leela” roughly means Dance of Devine Love. The dance form tells the story of Krishna, Radha, and the Gopis, and is considered as Krishna’s favorite thing to do. The Raas Leela is an important part of the traditional Manipuri culture. When the dancers perform the Raas Leela, it symbolizes the spiritual love for Lord Krishna. It is one of the most important parts of Manipuri classical Indian dance. The Raas Leela was first started as a dance form in 1779 by Ningthou Ching-Thang Khomba, also known as Rajarshi Bhagya Chandra, an 18th-century Meitei monarch.
How does the word “Leela” meaning ‘act’ fit in here? Back in the time of traditional Raas Leela performances in Vrindavan, the songs were sung in Vraj language which many followers and devotees found it quite hard to follow. The need for a visual representation was felt. Thus started the enactments. The dancers or actors still follow the traditional form of dance and music.
In Manipur, Raas Leela is big and spiritual. The Manipuri Raas Leela are of five kinds: Vasanta Raas – performed during the full moon of March-April; Maha Raas – only performed on the full moon period of November-December; Nitya Raas; Kunja Raas and; Diba Raas – to be performed only during the day. The Manipuri Raas Leela is unique, not only in terms of character but also in costume. The look is indigenous and the costume consists of an embroidered stiff skirt, light muslin garment on top, white veil and traditional Manipuri jewelry. In the past, Manipur has hosted the Raas Leela Festival where many groups participated.
Also known as “Rasa” is a dance form belonging to the north of India known as Raas Leela. This “Lord Krishna dedicated” dance style derives its origins from sacred cities such as Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh. This dance style has been essentially created from religious Hindu scriptures such as the “Bhagavata Purana” in which Lord Krishna’s dance with his love Radha and her “saakhis” (i.e. friends) have been described in details. In addition, the “Raas Leela” form of dancing has also been incorporated in a few classical Indian dance styles such as the Manipuri, Kathak, and Bharatnatyam. According to popular folklore, the “Raas Leela” form of dancing has developed from the stories revolving around Lord Krishna’s childhood days in Vrindavan. It is said that once in Vrindavan during the festival of Holi, Lord Krishna happened to see young boys and girls on the banks of the River Yamuna dance in sheer joy. This visual of seeing young male and female dance out of sheer gladdened Krishna’s heart. Unfortunately, though this joy did not last long as the children out of boredom slowly began to stop being playful. Sensing this sudden change in atmosphere Krishna then began playing the flute. Now, so soothing as the music played by Krishna, that it compelled the children to gather around Krishna and start dancing for almost half the night. It was, therefore, this dance created by these children on Krishna’s wonderful music that was eventually named “Raas Leela”, and has since passed on from one generation to another.
b. Costumes used in the Raas Leela:
The costume used in this form of dancing is purely based on the attire worn in the city of “Vrindavan”. Since this dance style involves both Krishna and Radha and the “gopiyas/saakhis” (i.e. male and female) they vary accordingly as follows:
- For males:
The costume used is essentially what Krishna used to wear i.e. a colorful dhoti mainly yellow in color to cover the lower body, an upper body that is covered mainly with heavy ornaments, and a headgear comprising of peacock feathers.
- For females:
The attire mainly used includes, the ghagra which covers the lower part of the body, the choli which covers the upper part of the body along with a dupatta.
c. The music involved in the Raas Leela:
The music used in this dance form is extremely slow and rhythmic and involves the use of instruments such as drums and cymbals.
d. Training availability and the dance technique of the Raas Leela:
This dance form usually performed in a mandap decorated using beautiful green leaves. The center of the mandap is occupied by one male and female dancer representing Lord Krishna and Radha respectively. In addition, dancing around (in a circle) the main characters to the “slow and rhythmic” accompanying music are a group of female performers representing the traditional “gopiyas/saakhis. In terms of training schools/centers, there are too few institutes in the country that provide for training in this rather pious dance form.