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‘Raas yatra’ or ‘Raas leela’ is celebrated to memeorise the glorious days of Lord Krishna at Vrindavan, spent with Radharani, deeply lost in eternal love. ‘Raas leela’ is a part of the traditional story of Lord Krishna, described in Hindu scriptures such as ‘Bhagavata Purana’ and literature such as the ‘Geeta Govinda’, where Lord Krishna dances with Radharani and her sakhis (gopis). The day of Raas Yatra is considered to be the last day of Lord Krishna’s outings. During autumn season, when the dust in the sky has been washed away, the moon shines in all its glory and purity - the best night of all is the full-moon or the Purnima day of the Bengali month Kartik, which is considered to be very auspicious. Once on such an auspicious moonlit night Sree Krishna and Radharani suddenly did the ‘Raas-leela’ themselves on the bank of river Yamuna – that was second full-moon night right after the Durga puja. Thus, the Bengali month Kartik is very dear to Lord Krishna and the month-long festivities culminate on the magical night. The ‘Srimad Bhagavatam’ says that even the Lord desires to dance and at that night, He adorns pure white clothes which shines like the clear moonlight. On marking the victory of Lord Shiva over demon Tripuri, this auspicious full moon night is also known as ‘Tripuri Purnima’. The term ‘Raasa’ meaning aesthetics and ‘leela’ meaning act or play or dance - is a concept from Hinduism, which roughly translates to play (leela) of aesthetics (raasa) or more broadly as ‘Dance of Divine Love’. The term Raas leela is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘rasa’ and ‘leela’; where ‘Raasa’ meaning juice or nectar or emotion or sweet taste and ‘leela’ meaning the act – thus, by taking this etymological breakdown of the word literally ‘Raas leela’ which signifies the ‘sweet 2 acts of Lord Krishna’. Raas leela freely renders as ‘the dance of love’ and ‘synthesis of human life’. The Raas leela takes place one night when the gopis of Vrindavan upon hearing the sound of Lord Krishna’s flute, sneak away from their households and families to the forest to dance with Lord Krishna throughout the night, which was supernaturally stretched by Lord Krishna to the length of one ‘kalpa’, a Hindu unit of time lasting approximately 4.32 billion years. In the Krishna Bhakti traditions, the Raas leela is considered to be one of the highest and most esoteric of Lord Krishna’s pastimes. In these traditions, romantic love between human beings in the material world is seen as the reflection of the soul’s original, ecstatic, spiritual love of Lord Krishna in the world of spirituality. In the Bhagavata Purana, it is stated that whoever faithfully hears or describes the Raasa leela, attains the pure loving devotion (‘Suddha Bhakti’) of Lord Krishna. Just as a child plays at own will, its reflection in a mirror, even so with the help of His Yogomaya Bhagwan Sree Krishna sported with Gopis, who were like many shadows of His own form. Again, it was the night of Raas leela, when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu entered Vrindavana in 1515 AD. It is also believed that annually on the day of Kartik Purnima, the gods descend on earth and reside at the sacred rivers. The Ganga and other sacred rivers have elaborate ceremonies on this particular night of Raas Yatra. Devotees who bath in the sacred water of river Ganga on this auspicious period can also get rid of toxic tendencies and receive the blessings of the saints. To celebrate this day we can cleanse our inner selves, to immerse our mind in the spiritual waters even if anyone do not live near the sacred rivers. Spiritual lights are to be allowed in order to burn away all the questionable traits within. It is not the show of cleaning the outer selves but to rid our mind and life of its negative habits like fear, greed, envy, anger, arrogance and replacing them with 3 the thoughts of love, compassion, generosity, kindness and light. Again, on marking the victory of Lord Shiva over demons Tripuri, this auspicious full moon night is also known as ‘Tripuri Purnima’. Performing of ‘Raas leela’ : Raas Yatra is a festival celebrating the divine-love of Sree Krishna and Radharani. Raas Yatra is celebrated with the procession with clay-deities of Lord Krishna and Radharani – this procession demonstrates the life of Lord Krishna, his various miracles and deeds. The festival is celebrated with melodious songs, dance and folk stories. Raas mela is celebrated on the eve of this auspicious festival; which is very famous at Nabadweep, Coochbehar and Santipur. Raas mela begins for a month after the popular procession of Raas yatra. Raas leela has been a popular theme in Katthak, Bharatnattyam, Odissi, Manipuri and Kuchipudi items. Raas leela is a popular form of folk theatre in the regions of Mathura, Vrindavana in Uttar Pradesh, especially during the festivals of Krishna Janmashtami and Holi and amongst various followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the region. Nadia, a district of West Bengal, is also known for Raas Utsav. ‘Vanga Raas’ of Santipur is the main festival of this town. Nabadwip also has ‘Shakta Raasa’. Raas leela (Raas Mahotsav) is also observed as one of the state-festivals of Assam which is usually celebrated during late November or early December. During Raas Mahotsava, several thousand devotees visit the holy temples and Xatras of Assam every year. The Raas Mahotsava of Majuli, Nalbari and Howly deserve a special mention in this regard. In the tradition of Vaishnavism of Manipur, Raas leela is depicted within Manipuri classical Indian dance and revolves around the same story of the love between Lord Krishna and the cowherd girls and tells 4 the divine love-story of Lord Krishna, ‘Svayam Bhagawan’ and ‘Radharani’. The Indian classical dance of Katthak evolved from the Raas leela of Braja and Manipuri classical dance (Vrindavana) - also known as ‘Natwari Nritya’, which was revived in 1960s by the Katthak dancer Uma Sharma. This classical form of dance was started by Bhagya Chandra in 1779 and in some parts of India it is still performed every year on Krishna Janmashtami (the festival to celebrate the birthday of Lord Krishna). According to different traditions, the Raas leela is performed either by boys and girls together or by girls only. The dance is performed holding ‘dandi’ (sticks) and is often accompanied with folk songs and devotional music. The traditional Raas leela performances in Vrindavan are famous throughout the Vaishnava world as an experience of the spiritual world. The performance of Raas leela was started by Swami Sree Uddhavaghamanda Devacharya in the early 15th century CE at Vamshivata in Vrindavan. Swami Sree Uddhavaghamanda Devacharya was a prominent saint of the Nimbarka sampradaya and disciple of the world-renowned Swami Sree Harivyasa Devacharya. The Vani literature of Vraja is the transcription of the songs that were heard by Swami Harivyasa Devacharya and his guru Swami Sree Shribhatta as they meditated on the Nitya leela of Sree Radha Krishna. These songs describe the eternal spiritual abode of Sree Radha Krishna. These songs describe the eternal spiritual abode of Sree Radha Krishna, the sakhis and Nitya Vrindavan Dhama or Nikunja Dhama. As many new devotees of that time could not understand the Vraja Language, Swami Uddavaghamanda Devacharya trained his Brahmachari students to play the parts that appeared in the songs in order to get a visual representation of the ‘leela’ that was being described. However, at the conclusion of the first Raas leela, tradition has it, the Lord himself appeared and gave the actors his own crown and decreed that 5 whenever a qualified actor was to take the part of the Lord, from the moment he put on the crown on his head, it should be understood that he represents the ‘leela’ potency of the God; and treated with due respect. Radha and Krishna shall be known as ‘Sree Radha Rasavihari’ – since then the traditional form has remained that actors who are young Brahmacharis will join the group led by the Swami of that group. The music remains the typical Dhrupada style of the Vraja acharyas who penned the songs, they heard to the accompaniment of Sitar and Pakhawaj as well as the songs are sung in Vraja language, a parental form of modern Hindi. Recently, many people have changed the traditional music to popular music. Yet there are a dedicated few who seek to preserve the traditional form of the devotional art known as ‘Raas leela’. Raas yatra is a main attraction for the tourists as the yatra features the clay-models which depicts the deeds and various phases of Lord Krishna’s life. Raas festival of Santipur : Mathuresh, the grandson of Adwaitacharya, first introduced the Raas festival at Santipur – it was perhaps at the end of 16th century or in the early years of seventeenth century. He brought Dolgobindo from Jessore and renamed Him as ‘Radharaman’ and established the ‘Baragoswami Bati’ as a separated clan. He has a good number of disciples both in the Brahmin and NonBrahmin sect. He insisted them to have Raas festival as a special festivity. All the owners of the bigrahas built the famous Rasamandir for their own ‘bigraha’ or deity. Raas festival for the deities are observed for four days. In the first three days, the deities sit at the raasmancha and moves around Santipur but on the fourth day they walk at the surroundings of His own area, on the laps of the owners of the deities and the disciples. The first day of the Raas festival is called 6 ‘Pratham Raas’, second day is called ‘Majher Raas’ and the third day is called ‘Bhanga Raas’ (when the deities move around the city on the shoulders of the bearers). On the fourth day, the deities move around His own area, thus, this day is called ‘Kunja Bhanga day’ or ‘Phooldol’. In an article of Santipur Municipality, the mention of Raas utsav is observed for the first time in the year 1860. It was written that many shops from the outskirts of Santipur, have came down during Raas yatra. It means that by that time, the Raas yatra festival had been found famous throughout Bengal. Raas festival of Coochbehar : Of the twelve yatras (journeys) of Lord Madan Mohan, Raas Yatra is one of the most celebrated festivals of Coochbehar and the grandest of all celebrations associated with Madan Mohan. Starting from the auspicious day of Raas Purnima, special offerings to Madan Mohan is carried for long 15 days. Lord Madan Mohan is seen to be seated on a beautifully decorated throne with the golden umbrella at the top, at the frontcorridor of the temple. The ‘Madan Mohan bari’ lights up amidst special lighting decorations and exhibition of various clay statues, related to Krishna leela and Purana. Every year, concerning the Raasleela of Sree Krishna; ‘Madan Mohan bari’ turns into a fusion of religious social and cultural aspects of the people of Coochbehar. It is possibly felt that, to commemorate the house-warming ceremony of Maharaja Harendra Narayan along with his kin and relatives at the new residence of Bhetaguri on the Raas Purnima in 1812 AD, the Raas festival is associated since then. The present temple of Madan Mohan was established in 1890 AD by Maharaja Nripendra Narayan. Since then, the fair related to Raas yatra, used to take place around the four sides of the ‘Bairagi Dighi’ (a big pool), located adjacent to the temple. 7 Later from 1912 onwards, the fair was shifted to the ‘Parade ground’ (presently called the Raas Mela ground). The setup of the fair is a large scale arrangement which really may be appreciable to the tourists. ‘Raas Chakra’ is a symbol of religious harmony as it is made by a Muslim family as their hereditary duty. It is ornamented with pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and the style commemorates about Buddhist Dharma Chakra (prayer wheel) and ‘Taziya’ of Muharram. The festival Raas yatra at Coochbehar is a form of communal celebrations. Visitors from distant places reach at Coochbehar to witness the carnival. Various idols are worshipped at different pandals. The decoration of light and various types of sola-made ornaments are mesmerizing. The ‘Daaker-Saaj’, along with the beating of special drums, the music of flutes, banjos, mridangas and kartals create a divine experience. Spiritual senses are heightened. Raas festival at Nabadweep : The main features of the Raas festival at Nabadweep are to make huge idols with clay and to worship ‘Shakti’. Every idol has an artistic design, a variety of imagination, religious discourse and deep understanding of the scholars; which help to entertain innumerable people. Cartoonist Chandi Lahiri said that hugeness of clay idols differs from any other festival as Nabadweep’s idols are shapely and symmetric despite their light weight. Raas festival is mainly a part of Vaishnavism. In the time of Chaitanya dev or some years earlier, Raas yatra was started at Nabadweep but it was a Vaishnavic festival. Shakta Raas is totally different from that. Shakta Raas festival is older than Vaishnava Raas; because at the beginning, idols were worshipped in ‘Patachitra’. During the time of Krishna Chandra and mainly Girish Chandra; the Raas utsav of Nabadweep became popular. Krishna Chandra and 8 Girish Chandra spent much money to popularise the festival and since then worshipping started through clay idol. Nabadweep is a sanctum of Tantra. Many Shakta and Tantra philosophers worshipped Devi Kali even before the Shakta Raas festival began. Later the clay idols of Devi Kali were worshipped in Raas festival. Fundamentalism of Brahmin led other people to turn towards Tantra sadhana. Since the twelfth or fourteenth century, Tantra sadhana has been enriched with tendency of Tantra philosophers throughout Bengal. In the early 16th century, Vaishnavic movement was started by some Vaishnavic scholars; so, it was an obvious conflict with Shakta followers who were worshipping Tantra. Raas festival at Raasbagan, Kolkata : Raas leela is associated primarily with Lord Krishna; but how many of us know that Krishna’s elder brother Balaram also dances in Raas? On Chaitra Purnima; Baladev, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu stages Raas-nritya with Revati, His wife. Scholars suggest that Raas was actually a type of folk dance of ancient India. In Bengal, a few odd temples dedicated to the worship of Revati-Balaram, still organises Raas-yatra of Baladev. The story of the temple at Raasbagan begins at the Mughal court of Shah Alam. Pitambar Mitra was the representative of Nawab of Ayoydhya to the throne of Delhi. Pitambar Mitra was a clever diplomat, trained warrior and devotee at heart. Once during a battle, Pitambar collected some material treasures; some of those were the manuscripts of Vaishnava philosophy. The more Pitambar delved into reading those manuscripts, the more his heart changed. Finally Pitambar renounced everything and left for Vrindavan for the spiritual pursuit. It is said that Pitambar Mitra had a divine revelation through which he got two pieces of wood floating down in Yamuna at Keshi 9 Ghat. With them he had the two deities carved – silvery-white Baladev and golden Revati. The temple was consecrated in Bengal and the present temple was rebuilt by his grandson Janmejaya Mitra in 1810. The deity of Baladev is unique. The right arm of Baladev holds a mushal mace, the left arm is held close to the chest in a posture of holding something. Over his head, the five-headed Ananta-Sesh-Naaga forms a canopy. Revati stands cross-legged. Her iconography was created under an obvious influence of the more popular Radha culture. *******************************************

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