Rasa-Uttsava

 

The most esoteric lila of the Lord, and a great collection of many and varied spiritual experiences for a bhakta, is Rasa-lila of the Lord.

 In the Shrimada Bhagvatam, this lila is explained in the tenth canto of the scripture.  Commentators have written volumes on this singular lila and orators have spoken non-stop for days at a time just on this one lila.

 In its most basic and physical form, it is the circular dance of the Lord and the gopies, the milk maids, in the woods Vrindavan during the autumn full moon. 

 The tribal folk of India have been celebrating the changing of seasons and the harvest with this sort of dance for a long time.  Indeed, the world over, humans celebrate special events with a communal dance and often this takes the form of a circle.

 Ofcourse, sage Sukacharyaji did not waste his precious energy on describing the adolescent dalliance of some cowherd to a king who had less than a few days to live !   Sages over the centuries would not have wasted their time and energy talking about a simple dance of some village folk !  There is an esoteric meaning in this lila, as all the lilas of the Lord.  It is one of the most wonderful lilas of the lord and marks a culmination of all the efforts of a soul to be in close communication with the universal spirit.

Rasa lila is an Uttsava - a celebration - as it celebrates an amazing achievement of several life times.  Our soul, like all souls, was once blissfully one with the universal spirit.  There was no doubt, no pain, and no fear in that state.  For lila, the Lord separated the soul from Himself and sent it to play in the universe.

Like a bubble in an ocean, the soul formed an identity of its own and traversed the vastness of the Lord (for the Lord is the creator and the creation itself !).  Sometimes the bubble hit a bit of turbulence and felt bit perturbed.  Sometimes, it passed through exciting landscapes and felt giddy with all the beauty around it.  However, after a while, the bubble burst and merged with the ocean.  Seamless and effortless was the merger. 

Similarly, the soul's journey through aeons passes through good times and bad.  Sometimes it feels God loves it and sometimes it feels abandoned.  After much search, it realises that the ocean it seeks to merge with is all around it !  It was never apart from it even for a fraction of a second !!  Than the soul merges with its ocean in a seamless, effortless, yet joyous union.

Similarly, the soul feeling separated from the Lord yearns for the bliss it once enjoyed.  It looks for it in the world's pleasures and finds them all to be incomplete.  After a lengthy search, it dawns on it that it needs to be one with the universal spirit (Bhagvan) in order to enjoy the eternal bliss it seeks. 

After much searching, it suddenly dawns on it that the it was never apart from the Lord and this game of hide and seek is but part of the divine lila ! 

The enlightened souls of numerous sages and saints sought various ways of getting back to that blissful state of oneness with the universe.  Some found it but for a while and others found it a for a fleeting second.  Most thought it a tortuous route to bliss and sought a more ideal route.  Ever merciful, the Lord came and granted them the opportunity to experience the joy of oneness without the mind-boggling practices of various schools of yoga.  The Lord showed them the easy route through Bhakti yoga and opened up the easy route to His own lila.

 

Some of the sages and saints became gopies, milk maids, of Vraj in order to experience what they could not as Rajarshris and even Brahamarshris.  In this form, they saw how easy it was to achieve bliss.  The Lord and His infinite mercy is within our reach, we only have to stretch out and grab it !  Leaving behind their pre-conceptions and prejudices, they gradually became free of all the things that stopped them from enjoying their oneness with the universal spirit. 

In His various lilas, the Lord slowly but surely cleansed them and carefully removed each layer of attachment and maya that covered them.  In the pan-ultimate lila - Chirharan lila - the Lord removed the dvaita - the duality - from their mind.  From that moment on, it was simply a matter of time before the super-refined souls of the gopies could enjoy the maha-rasa.

When the skies above Vraj had been cleared of all the rain clouds, soothing cool fragrant breezes were flowing over its wonderful wood lands, and rivers & streams of the forest were full of fresh clean waters, the Lord decided to perform Maha-rasa.

Autumn full moon rose like a golden orb over the horizon and the landscape of Vrindavan, that blessed forest where Vrinda-devi had performed such penance out of love for the Lord Hari, was transformed into a heavenly paradise.  The trees and creepers of the forest were full of fragrant flowers, birds and bees sang intoxicating songs in its bowers and the waterways of the forest were adorned with lustrous blooms of lotuses and lilies.  At this wondrous time, when the souls of the gopies were ripe for their ultimate experience, the Lord called the gopies to Him.  The wondrous call of the universal Lord is so sweet, how can a human explain it but as soothing music !  How can I "explain" the taste of sugar ?  I can only give you metaphors - such as "sweet", "delightful" etc.  To explain it and experience it are two different things. 

Shukacharyaji had a difficult job trying to explain the sound of the Lord's calling to someone who was not as refined as himself.  He did an excellent job, but most of us are unable to understand  the bhava and experience of Shri Shukacharya.

The gopies who were called by the flute were eager to meet their Lord and ran out to meet Him with great haste.  Those who were busy in their household chores, left the chores half done and ran out despite protests from their relatives.  Those busy with their makeup, left in such a hurry, they mis-applied their makeup and wearing mis-matched jewellery in their haste to meet their beloved Lord. 

The gopies normally called on each other for the smallest things, and even went to fetch water with each other.  But on this day, of all days, they went without even thinking to call on their friend !

If indeed this was a tale of clandestine meeting and rendezvous in the forest between gopies and Krishna, the gopies would made sure their make-up and jewelry was correct.  They would not have left their homes in the open and would have been more sly about their leaving their home so late at night. 

But this is the tale of a soul suddenly realizing that it now has the possibility, indeed a rare opportunity, to be one with the universal Lord.  It does not now wait, it can not !  Cows, having seen their young calves, can not than be restrained with the greatest efforts, as their love for their young is very intense indeed.  Similarly, the gopies could not wait to be with their Lord.

Gopies made their way to the kadamb tree where Murlidhar stood in a beautiful tribhang (when the head, torso and the legs are all at different angles to each other), waiting for them.  With a sweet smile, capable to smiting the very heart of Lakshmi, the Lord welcomed the gopies with great many pleasantries.  But after the welcoming speech, the Lord said, "Having enjoyed Vrindavan by moonlight, I think it best if you now return to your loved ones back at home."

The gopies did not know which way to turn !  Having abandoned all and every for ShriKant, now they were being advised by ShriHari to go back !!  Shedding tears in silence, eyes cast low, they begged the Lord not to be so cruel.  "Having called us here, do not abandon us now.  We have waited so long for this moment.  We have not come to see the forest, and we have no plans to go back.  Either accept us or let us die at your feet !  There are is  no other option for us."  

Seeing their resolve, the Lord smiled and engaged them in other thoughts and played the Maha-rasa with them.  A great circular formation was created in which the Lord and his beloved gopies danced in unison.  The Lord danced with such agility and grace, that each gopi felt that He was dancing exclusively with her !  Later the Lord took several forms to make sure each gopi had the chance to interact with him personally.

When the heavenly Gods and sages (who had not reincarnated as gopies) heard of the Maha-rasa, they all came there to witness the beauty of it all. The dancing ability and agility of the Lord put the best amongst them to shame.

If indeed this was a secret meeting of youths in Vrindavan, why would the Gods have come to witness it ?  Why would sages who are too busy contemplating on the universal spirit, come to watch some young people dancing in the woods of Vraj ? Sages have no time to waste on care free dalliance of milk maids and cow-herds.  They appreciate the pain of separation between the universal spirit and the soul and only they (sages) can appreciate the joy of their reunion.

This was nothing less than the celebration of union of a soul with the universal spirit.  It takes many millenniums before a soul realizes it has lost its blissful state.  It takes further time before it acts towards regaining that state and further lifetimes before the soul actually achieves the goal of reunion.  Sages, forever compassionate, came to witness this reunion and cried tears of joy at seeing yet another soul regain its "blissful" state.

Whilst Sukacharya is reciting Shrimada Bhagvatam, in his audience are seated the greatest sages of all times.  Included in this throng are his father Vedam Vyasa, the original author of the scripture and his grandfather Parashar.  No cultured person would talk about adolescent lovers in an open assembly and in the presence of so many revered folk, let alone their own father and grandfather !  In that great assembly, only these sages understood the full impact and beauty of the maha-rasa.  Being the great enlightened souls that they were, they could appreciate the bliss the gopies experienced when they became one with Shri Krushna.

The Lord's lila caused even the enlightened souls of the gopies to be charmed.  They suddenly felt that their sadhanas must have been so great, that even the Lord had to succumb to them !!!  This is called "saubhagya-mada" ie pride born out of ones good fortune.  The gopies, in the tale, felt their beauty and charm was so great that the Lord, who was so resolved to being aloof, and who told them so clearly at the beginning of the night to " ... go back as I am a renounceate and do not have any desires...", had been totally defeated by them !  Through their determination, and their actions alone, they had managed to fill the Lord with "desire" for them !  They had managed to paint a canvas that refused to be painted till date, and that they had defeated He who was yet undefeated by even Manmatha - the God of desire who is capable to churning the minds of all creatures.  

The Lord is Antaryami - He who knows your innermost thoughts.  Poor gopies !  To have reached a peak of spiritual experience and to have thought it to be the summit !  There are many peaks on this mountain of spirituality.  Each peak reveals a new vista.  But, it is not the be all and end all of the possible views from this mountain !  And indeed, even if you stood on the same peak for a hundred years, each morning will bring a dawn that is unique in its beauty and is un-repeated in all eternity !

Lord is the father of Manmatha, how could Manmatha than defeat the Lord ?  He is more than capable of even charming and disarming the God of desire !

The Lord, having once accepted a soul into his keeping never lets go.  He wished to give the gopies the ultimate experience of bliss - one even more powerful than the one they had just experienced.  The Lord became "antar-dhayan" - ie "entered the hearts" of the gopies and they could not see Him in their midst any longer.  Like the well known adage - "can not see the trees for the wood", the gopies who had managed to extract the Lord from the universal gross matter, could not now appreciate the Lord as being in every molecule of the universe around them.

They cried and cursed their fate in vain.  The forest that seemed so beautiful a minute ago, now seemed eerie.  Gopies started to search for Him and upon seeing various markings in the sands, and upon the trees, imagined the lila of the Lord as He must have enacted it on His way to these areas.  Soon, their feeling of separation was so intense, they began to feel oneness with the Lord.  They began to see the Lord in each other and in the world around them. 

Yet, not being able to see their beloved culminated in the most wondrous hymn - the Gopi-geet - the most intense form of separation expressed in the vernacular.  The Lord, seeing that the gopies had now reached yet another peak of experience, became "pragat" - ie He appeared in their midst and yet none could  tell how he got there !  The Lord is forever in our midst, He is not hidden from us, it is us who have closed our eyes and hence can't see Him !

The gopies conversed with the Lord and after some more lilas, bathed in the soothing waters of the Kalindi.  One of the points mentioned in Shri Yamunashtakam is that the river form of the great goddess is rendered even more holy (than it already was) by its association with the sweat that the Lord and the gopies washed off after the Maha-rasa in its waters.  This sweat is the sweat of searching for the Lord.  Search for the Lord is long and arduous and the sweat one pours into this is very precious indeed.  It is very difficult to realize the obvious and the Lord's existence is the most obvious and basic fact of all !

 

Unfortunately for us all, Raja Praiksheet, still tinged with Rajasi and Satvic thoughts, questioned ethics of the lilas of the Lord.  Sukacharyaji assured him that this was the divine sport of the soul and the super soul, but he could sense that the king was uncomfortable with this idea.  The king was not yet sufficiently enlightened enough to see the lila for what it was.  The great Suka ended the tale of the Maha-rasa there and said, "The lila took over six months to complete and O great king, this was an alaukik (not mundane/ worldly - ie divine) lila. Though it was six months in passing, no one, including the friends and relations of the gopies ever knew about it.

When the soul has peak experiences in life, sometimes the worldly companions of the soul notice this, sometimes they don't.  Most people cannot place it and just think the person is acting peculiarly.  The six months of having the divine experience may seem like SIX long months to the surrounding folk, but to the person going thorough it - it is but a single moment and they do not wish it to come to an end.

 

The Rasa lila of the Lord is unique and wonderful.  It is an amazing insight into how the spiritual path towards God leads.  It is an amazing celebration of sadhana and krupa.

Please note, this is my humble attempt to understand the great lila.  I am not an authority of the subject, so please excuse any mistakes that may inadvertently be inherent in this article.  

 

b-rasa.jpg (2632 bytes)             Here are two images of this great lila as depicted in Pichoies at Nathadwara.             but-rasa.jpg (1881 bytes)

 

Bhagwat Shah

Shyamdas's own translation on the subject is also on this site

 

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