Raas Leela - The Dance of Passion

Raas Leela has been immortalized in legends. But what is its meaning, and why was even Shiva attracted to it? There is something feminine about celebrating something. Whether a man or a woman celebrates, the act of celebration is essentially feminine. There is a very beautiful story in the Mahabharata to describe the meaning of being female. It was at the time of the Holi festival, just after spring when everything is in full bloom. On a certain afternoon, a full moon day, the boys and girls of the village gathered on the banks of the Yamuna River. They began to play and have fun throwing water and sand.

After some time, the game was broken at a dance. And they danced and danced because they were in such a state of exuberance and joy. But little by little, one by one, the people went away. When Krishna saw this, He took out his flute and began to play. His music was so enchanting that everyone gathered around him and once again danced.

Through the Raas Leela, a simple cheerful mix of people rose to a transcendental state. The word Raas can also indicate passion. So this was the dance of passion. The fragrance of this dance was propagated. People came to know that on full moon nights at midnight, this dance took place, and the numbers of those who participated increased.

It also fell on the ears of Shiva that on full moon nights, a fantastic dance happened on the banks of the Yamuna River. He realized that people simply danced their way. Shiva approached from the Himalayas to the banks of the Yamuna River and told a boatman who was there to take him through Vrindhavan. The man on the boat replied that he cannot go like that, as here only women dance. So it was a strange request, that Shiva must dress in women's clothing.

Shiva looked around and dressed in a gopi's clothes and walked the river. This story means that, in essence, the nature of the celebration is female.

Raslila is also common in northeastern India in Manipur. This style has no restrictions for its performers, but can be danced by anyone who wants to do it. Each village of Manipur has its temple, each of them with the Nat Mandap or hall for the dance. Two cultures exerted their influence in different times. There were Meitei from Vedic times, with traditions of folk dances and rituals highlighting the drama of Lai Haroba, held at annual religious festivals outside Thangjing Temple (Moirang village).

Lai Haroba has as its central theme the creation of the world and of human beings, a combination of ritual and artistic spectacle, dedicated to the village gods and the loves of Khamba and Thoibi. In these ancient dance dramas there are numerous dancers, including the inhabitants of the villages, led by Maibas and Maibis, who are priests and priestesses of dance.

There are several types of Ras Lilas, some of them, are made at certain times for certain festivities like the Vasanta Ras celebrated with the arrival of spring, the Maha Ras, celebrated in November or the month of Kartika, the Kunja Ras during the time of Dussera and the Nitya Ras at any time of the year.

No jingle bells are worn during the Lasya and feet are softly stepped, unlike other classical dance styles. Nor is the Ardhamandali position used, but both feet and knees are held together, gently flexed. In certain movements the body rises or falls, sometimes being semi-seated. It is characterized by its turns and half turns, with an important handling of wrists and hands, whose fingers close and open delicately followed by a serene glance.

In the Tandava form jumps abound, fast movements and steps of great agility and energy. Among these male dances stand out Kartal Cholam or cymbal dance and Pung Cholam or drum dance. In both the dancer accompanies itself marking the rhythm with the cymbals or the drum, while making difficult steps arriving at the acrobatics.

The art of expression is abstract, since the predominant abhinaya in this style is the so-called Angika abhinaya, in which the whole body is used to express a feeling or an idea. The gestures of the hands (only suggestive), accompany the rest of the body movements, while the face remains serene. The intention is to suggest a concept outlining it, leaving the rest to the imagination of the viewer. In other styles to express a flower or a bird, it does with gestures of the hands, in Manipuri, it is done with the whole body, adopting the qualities of the thing or idea that is meant.

The rasa shringara, as in other styles, occupies a predominant place. They are presented in the most varied forms of solos, duets, small and large groups, ballets, danced dramas and operas. Singing is of great importance. The rhythmic part is very rich, creating a propitious atmosphere in all its parts. The main musical instruments are: pung (tambor), dholak, cymbals, flute, feather (violin made with a coconut), mandira, conch, etc.

The female costume is the most original and representative of this style. It consists of an ankle skirt, whose lower part is armed and embroidered with small mirrors, on which is placed an envelope skirt made of transparent white fabric whose edge is armed in an undulating form, all complemented with a golden blouse and a belt. The hair is combed with an impeller on the top of the head, adorned with flowers and jewels and covered with a veil.

The male costume is simpler, generally consisting of a dhoti, complemented with various accessories and ornaments, according to the dance for which they are used.