On Janmashtami, one of the most important aspects of the festivities is Rasleela [divine sport]. Sri Krishna played with his gopis on the banks of Yamuna in Vrindavan. Amongst his gopis, Radha was the most important gopi and closest to Lord Krishna. Radha’s love for Lord Krishna was complete in its purest form. Sri Krishna performed Rasleela in city of Vrindavan from the age of ten.
According to Bhagavata Puran, Lord Krishna was loved immensely by gopis. Their love for Krishna was not for flesh but higher love that was prerna [Divine love]. Love for Sri Krishna was so strong that gopis forgot all about their Worldly chores. Gopis were totally merged in their love for God since they practiced constant smaran [remembrance].
Performance of Rasleela:
Lord Krishna had promised the gopis that he would dance with all of them. Bhagwan Krishna used to stand at the centre surrounded by all the dancing gopis. The gopis also sang the glory of Lord Krishna. At times, Sri Krishna used to put his arms around the neck of the gopis. After that all of them danced together. On seeing the divine dance, the demigods like Gandharva, Yakshas threw flowers from the sky. Also, they blessed the gopis and Lord Krishna. The gopis considered them fortunate and rejoiced with sheer bliss in Lord Krishna’s company.
Disappearance of God during Rasleela:
The gopis danced almost every full moon night during autumn season and became very conceited. The gopis considered themselves superior to other women, not fortunate enough to be with Krishna. During Rasleela full moon night, Lord Krishna disappeared to teach the gopis lesson of humility. Since Krishna was not among the gopis, they were agonised due to abandonment. Gopis were overwhelmed with grief so they started looking for Krishna while praying for his return. Also, while searching for Lord Krishna the gopis sang songs popularly known as Gopika Gitam. After several pleading requests from the gopis, Lord Krishna returned to the much awaiting gopis.
Rasleela in its present form:
In the present age, Rasleela is performed by Brahmin boys of 10-13 years old only. The main theme of Rasleela revolves around Lord Krishna’s formative years in the city of Vrindavan. There are five main Rasleelas performed including Janamleela about the birth of Lord Krishna. The Shankarleela, Putanaleela that is the killing of Putana, the demon. The Nagleela is about the killing of Kaliya Nag, the dreaded serpent of Gokul. These Rasleelas are performed by professional troupes with utmost devotion and love. The troupes captivate the audiences with their performance. Generally, Rasleelas are performed in Brajbhasa, the local language. This language is similar to Hindi language so most of the Indians find it easy to understand. End of Rasleela, the devotees throng to touch the feet of the boy who enacted Krishna. This young boy becomes equivalent to the divine during Janmashtami. These Rasleelas are often performed by various renowned theater groups. Rasleela are performed on stages by celebrities who enact the leading roles. They mark the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna.