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Raslila Dance | History and Types

Raslila dance is a music-dance-oriented folk theater form prevalent in many regions of North India. In Natyashastra, Rasa or Rasaka and Hallisaka are mentioned as ‘Upurupaka’ i.e. ‘secondary form of drama with dance emphasis’. It is customary to call the dance that Krishna performed with the gopis in Vrindavan as ‘Raas’. But since this type of dance-drama comes from Krishna’s gopakrida or any other part of the story, it must have got the term ‘Raslila’.

Raslila Dance

History of Raslila dance

The description of ‘Raas’ is given in detail in five chapters of Bhagwat Purana. After Krishna’s flute fainted, Gopi gave up her daily routine and started dancing with him. With each gopi, Krishna began to dance in various forms. It is said that this circular dance lasted for six months.

Raslile’s technique may have been inspired by the original inspiration from Bhagwat, dance by dancers, acting by actors and storytelling from Krishna’s juicy life. The narrative in Ras is poetic. Later, the devotional poems of Siddhahastha poets like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Surdas, Jayadeva on Krishna’s life were composed in music and presented through Raslile.

Rasli has been popular in Brajbhoomi, the birthplace of Krishna in Uttar Pradesh, India, since time immemorial. From here, the tradition spread to other parts of the country, and the province nurtured it according to its own interests and other characteristics. Like Braj, Rasli is famous in Manipur and Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Rasa in Brajabhumi

Rasli has spread all over India in the form of folk dramas. However, it has been practiced in Brajabhumi since the 16th century. Due to this birth place of Krishna, Rasaliles here has gained a special importance. The theater technique here is simple and the theater is a square platform apart from a spacious area left at the same level as the audience. There are two seats on this platform, one for Radha and the other for Krishna.

Manipuri Raslila

It is believed that Manipuri Rasli was first published in 1776 by Maharaja Bhagya Chandra Jaisingh of Manipur. As it is based on the Vaishnava sect, the entire character of Krishna is performed in the song and dance.

In Bhagavata ‘Raas’ is a five act play with acting, dance and lyrics. But because of the predominance of dance, Raas is more famous as a dance form than as a drama. As many types of dances and songs are interspersed in it, it may have received the term ‘Maharas’. Manipuri Rasli follows the Bhagwat tradition to the utmost.

History of Raslila dance

Types of dances to Raslila

1. Mahaaras – It is performed on the night of the full moon in the month of Kartik. While Krishna, Radha and Gopi are dancing, Krishna disappears to destroy the ego and pride of Radha and other Gopis. Later, a group dance was performed at the request of Radha and Gopi.

2. Vasantras – This dance drama is performed on the night of the full moon in Chaitra. This is a Rangpanchami dance. Seeing Krishna dancing with a gopi named Chandravali, Radhe gets jealous and leaves Rusun. At Krishna’s persuasion, the two dance together.

3. Kunjaras – These joyous dance dramas are witnessed by the first moon in Ashwina. Gopi and Radha use make-up and go to meet Krishna in Kunja. Krishna is also Milnotsuk. After the meeting, everyone dances in a circle.

4. Nityaras – This dance is performed on social occasions and festivals. This is a circular dance performed around Lord Krishna. It begins with ‘Abhisara’ (Krishna’s journey to Radha) and shows the holy meeting of Radhakrishna. It ends in a devotional dance. Radha finally offers her soul at the feet of Krishna.

5. Dijras – This rasa is a lasya type and is done during the day. It is a bit like Garba dance and it is attractive and delicate.

6. Goshtras (Gop Nritya) – This orgy is performed in Kartik. The story of Krishna and Balram’s cow protection, Kanduk (ball) dance with Gopas and later the slaughter of Dhenukasura by Balarama is shown through dance.

Some of the dances also show the incident of Krishna killing Bakasura after reaching Vrindavan. It is an energetic and blissful orgy and ends in a devotional and immersive dance.

7. Utkhalaras – In this dance, Krishna’s dance and pranks are shown. Also, Gopi’s teasing, Makhan-theft, Ghagarphodi, then the complaint made to Yashoda and the punishment given to Lord Krishna by Yashoda by tying the knot etc. are shown and finally the group dance of Gopi and Krishna is shown.

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