Understanding the Raas Leela

Om Vishnupad 108 Tridandi Swami Sri Srimat Bhakti Sravan Tirtha Goswami Maharaj ki Jai !!


Lord Krishna’s Raas Leela with the Gopis of Vrindavan is one of the most well-known and at the same time, one of the most misunderstood of the Lord’s divine sports. People interpret it according to their own mentality and in a sense, it mirrors their mind, knowledge and character.

Raas Leela is held to be the most esoteric and beautiful part of Srimad Bhagvatam and it is considered as the fruit of Krishna devotion (bhakti). In fact, those who know the transcendental science say that the whole of the Bhagavatam itself is just to prime the reader and to help them to enter into and appreciate the Raas Leela. The Rasa Panchadhayi or five chapters of Raas Leela in the 10th Canto represent the very core of the heart of Srimad Bhagavat Mahapurana.

The demigods gathered overhead in their aerial vehicles to watch this Maha Raas. They were praying, ‘Next time, let us not be born in heavenly regions. May we do sadhana (devotional practice) so that our next birth is in Braj (the area around Vrindavan) among the gopis. May we also get the good fortune of participating in this Raas, which is the supreme transcendental destiny.’

Even Lord Shiva, the God of Gods wanted to participate in the Raas Leela, but he could not because he is a male. In the Raas, the only Male is Lord Krishna he was told.  Undaunted, he prayed to be turned into a gopi, which prayer was granted by Krishna and ultimately after a dance, Gopishwara Shiva was posted at the entrance as the gate keeper of the Raas.

What do the words “Raas Leela” mean?  Raas is derived from the word “Rasa” which inadequately translates into “mellow” or “relish” or literally “juice”. Mellow or juice of what?  Joy – pure condensed bliss. And Leela means play or sport. Thus Raas Leela means Joyous Sport or more poetically, the esoteric interplay of divine blissful mellows.

 “The Taittiriya Upanishad describes Parabrahma – God - as rasa: raso vai sah (Taittiriya, Ananda Valli, 7). Rasa is concentrated ananda or bliss; ananda in its condensed form assumes a figure. The figure is of Sri Krishna. Ananda-brahman is the formless expansive glow of Parabrahma, just as moonlight is the formless expansive glow of the moon. In Ananda-brahman rasa is dormant—still and motionless. In rasa-brahman or rasa as Sri Krishna, it is dynamic, effulgent, ever-flowing and ever-growing. It is astonishingly ever new and supremely relishable—passing every moment beyond itself to new levels of rasa-consciousness.”

                                                               Dr O.B.L. Kapoor (Adi Kesava dasa)

He is the darling son of Yashoda, who stole butter from others’ house. Just saying these things gives joy. Why? Because the Paramatma of Vedanta is in shaanta rasa (the calm emotion of tranquility) and Krishna of Bhakti is the pure mellow of joy that dances. They are the same, yet with this difference.

So when Krishna desired to express his Joy of Being by dancing, he summoned his own energies who were in fact the Gopis of Braj. Just as a child plays at its own will with its reflection in a mirror, even so with the help of His Yogamāyā (Will) Krishna sported with the Gopīs, who were like many shadows of His own form.

Acharya Rajneesh, Osho, describes Raas as a celebration – an eternal dance – of the fundamental creative forces of the Universe. He draws a parallel between what is happening all around us in the universe and the Raas. “It is all a celebration, whether it is clouds gliding in the heavens or rivers rushing to the seas or seeds on their way to becoming flowers and fruit, or bees humming or birds on the wing or love affairs between men and women.”

He goes on to say, “It is for this reason that Krishna's Maha Raas ceases to have a sexual connotation. For certain sex has been left far behind. In reality Krishna does not dance as a mere boy, he represents here, the whole of the male principle in creation, known in Sanskrit as Purusha. And similarly the gopis represent the entire female element, Prakriti. The Maha Raas represents the combined dance of prakriti and purusha, between Spirit and Matter.”

In that sense it is the interplay between the Yin and the Yang. An expression of joyous overflowing bliss.

From a spiritual standpoint, this play is regarded as the union of the individual soul  with the Supreme Soul. Once the jiva (living being) transcends the boundaries of gender, mind and body identification and immerses all the senses in transcendental love for God, it culminates in the rapturous union of the small wave in the immense sea of spirit. 

The gopis who were summoned for the Raas did not attain it just like that. Many acharyas say that the gopis were in reality sages and rishis who had performed rigorous penance and observed austerities for thousands of years spread over many lifetimes to attain the Lord. Their prayers were answered in the Maha Raas. These were Rishirupa gopis.

Yet others say that the shlokas of the Vedas assumed the forms of gopis, when Bhagawan wanted their divine essence to be manifested as the Raas. Shri Krishna did the Maha Raas with them. These were the Shrutirupa gopis. And then there were the nitya-siddha gopis and sadhna-siddha gopis. There were millions of energies of Krishna and He manifested as many forms to dance with each one of them.

In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Shukdev Maharaj, who narrated the epic to Maharaj Parikshit clearly says that Raas is not for emulating, it is for pondering. In a sense Raas is a call from the Divine Lover to every one of us. Just as the gopis dropped whatever they were doing the moment they heard the call of the flute and renouncing everything ran to meet Krishna, similarly we should ever practice our devotional service and wait for the sweet sound of the transcendental flute.
This is one way in which to understand the mystical Raas Leela.



Jai Gurudev !

Jai Jai Sri Radhey !!