Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

Raas Krida on Sharad Purnima
Rajasthani, Nathdvara, 19th century CE
(Acc. No. 78.7/2) Painting size: 55*42 cms.

Dance, drama and music forms an essential part of Bhagavata sect since ancient times. As early as 400 B.C. Bhasa the great dramatist presents Raas dance associated with Bhagavata cult. There is a mention in the Bhagavata Purana where Krishna says that “My stories should be sung, dance and enacted on festive occasions” (XI.27.44).

Philosophically the most important dance of Krishna is the Raasmandala (Raas Lila) meaning circle of delight or ecstasy. The love of Krishna and the gopis takes place in a circle which has no beginning nor an end and goes on and on for eternity. In the Vaishnava cult this mystic dance has a special ritualistic significance.

Dashma skanda of Bhagavata Purana describes the Raas lila of Krishna. With a desire to sport with gopis on a full moon night of Sharada Ritu (October-November), Krishna invites gopis by playing melodious music on his flute. Enchanted by the music, gopis rush to him and Krishna starts dancing and sporting with them amorously. On receiving Krishna’s favour gopis feel immense pride. Realizing this, Krishna disappears from the scene and comes back only on repeated pleading of the gopis and plays maharass with them. With his divine power he multiplies himself and dances with all the gopis and simultaneously. He thus convinces them that he participates in their lives, giving freely of himself to each and everyone and ensuring that he is lovingly and completely available to his devotees. The dance leads the gopis to the path of liberation where the individual soul jivatman joins the divine soul parmatman.

There is a long tradition of circular dance in India. The earliest reference of a circular dance is in the Harivansha Purana (5th century A.D.). The dance is referred here as ‘Hallishaka’ where many women dance in a circle around one man. In Indian Philosophy a circle has many symbolic connotations.

Svetastara Upanishada says:

“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”.

The Tradition of raas dance still continues.
Krishna through Yogamaya became many so that he could give his love to all. He was like a sapphire in a necklace of gold. There was such harmony of ragas and raginis that hearing it, water and wind no longer flowed. The moon together with the starry sky being astonished rained down nectar with its rays. The wives of Gods gathered in the sky. Meanwhile night advanced and six months had passed. The name of that night has been the night of Brahma.

Surdasa