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rās(a) līlā


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1 Narrowly, Kṛṣṇa's dance (rāsa) with the gopīs, described in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (10.33). The women dance in a circle; Kṛṣṇa inserts himself between each pair, so that each individual supposes that he is attending to her alone. For many Vaiṣṇava bhakti traditions, this typifies the individual's relationship to God, an experience intensified through various meditation and visualization practices focused on the rāsa līlā. More widely, the term rāsa līlā refers to the full extent of Kṛṣṇa's divine play (līlā) with the gopīs—their love, union, incomprehensible separation, and reunion—described in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (10.29–33). In both the narrower and wider senses of the term, rāsa līlā has been a favourite subject for visual artists.

2 (Rāsalīlā) A North and Eastern Indian, ritualized devotional performance, using words, music, dance, and tableaux to enact Kṛṣṇa's early life in Braj. In the tradition issuing from Braj itself, the material (which is far more extensive than just the rāsa dance which lies at its centre) is performed by troupes of pre-pubescent boys, who now tour India throughout the year. Another notable tradition is that of the complex and elaborate seasonal Rāsalīlas established in Manipur in 1779 by King Chingthangkhomba (Bhagyacandra) (1763–1798)—a synthesis of local practices and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, derived from the five chapters on rāsa in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (10.29–33). See also līlā.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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