Indian legends have it that Krishna danced with milkmaids on the banks of the river Yamuna on the full moon night of autumn. This dance is referred to as Raas-Leela. Western theologians tread this subject with caution, some ascertaining a sexual connotation to the mystery behind it. Indian philosophers have tried to read between the lines focusing on the symbolism of the same, digging for deeper spiritual meaning. To understand Raas-Leela, the dance of celebration, what is first necessary to know is that the whole of life is a meeting of contradictory forces, and that all its happiness comes from this union of the opposites. The very mystery and ecstasy of life lies hidden in this unio mystica. To begin with, it is good to understand the metaphysical meaning of the celebration that our universe holds. And then, together, we will go into the life of Krishna, a complete miniature of this celebrating universe.
Raise your sights and look at whatever is happening all around in this vast universe of ours. Is it anything other than a dance, a celebration, an abounding carnival of joy? It is all celebration, whether it is clouds gliding in the heavens or rivers rushing to the seas or seeds on their way to becoming flowers and fruit, or bees humming or birds on the wing or love affairs between men and women. It is all a panorama of play and dance and celebration.
Raas has a universal meaning; it has a cosmic connotation and significance.
Firstly, the meeting of opposite energies is the cornerstone of all creation, of the universe. To construct a house with a door, we put an arch at the top of the door with the help of opposite shapes of bricks to support it. It is just this placing of opposite kinds of bricks in the arch that upholds not only the door but the whole building. If we use uniform kinds of bricks in the arch, it will be impossible to construct a house. In the same way, the whole play of creation, at every level of life, begins when energy becomes divided into two opposite parts. This division of energy is at the root of all creation, of all life in the universe, and with the cessation of this division all life's play comes to a full stop. When the same energy becomes one, when it returns to its primordial state, total destruction, the ending of the universe happens. And when the same energy again divides itself into two, creation begins anew.
Raas, the dance of celebration, is the most profound attribute of the mighty stream of creation. And creation in itself is the interplay of polar opposites -- thesis and antithesis. When opposites collide with each other it results in conflict, hostility and war, and when they embrace each other there is love and friendship. Without the meeting of the two, creation is impossible. So we have to go into the significance of Krishna's raas in this context.
It is not all that we see when Krishna dances with the gopis, the milkmaids, but we can see only that much with our gross eyes. Krishna's raas with the milkmaids of his village is not an ordinary dance, on a small scale it really represents the universal dance of creation that, since eternity, goes on and on. It epitomizes the everlasting drama of the making and unmaking of the universe. It gives you a glimpse of that divine dance and that immense orchestra.
It is for this reason that Krishna's maharaas ceases to have a sexual connotation. If one literally believes the texts, Krishna was eight years old at the time of the maharaas on the full moon in autumn. It is hard to imagine any sexual interpretation in the mind of an eight year old. And he danced with the gopis. The term "gopi" in Sanskrit means someone who has turned inward to derive pleasure. Such milkmaids who have turned inward would not derive pleasure from ordinary sex. In reality or wider interpretation Krishna does not dance as a mere Krishna, he represents the whole of the male element in creation, known in Sanskrit as purusha. And similarly the gopis represent the entire female element, prakriti. The maharaas represents the combined dance of prakriti and purusha. People who take the maharaas as a sexual representation of life are mistaken; they really don't understand it. And I am afraid they will never understand it. To put it rightly, it is a dance of the meeting of the male and female energies, of purusha and prakriti. It has nothing to do with any individual man and woman; it represents the mighty cosmic dance.
Legend has it that it happened on the full moon night of autumn. The significance of autumn is the representation of balance; it's neither too hot nor too cold in autumn. The full moon represents completeness. The maharaas is Yog, merging of the individual self into the Supreme; call it Brahman, God, Nature, Higher Self or whatever you may. It is the dance of the electrons around the nucleus or the dance of the planets around the sun. The electrons are equally and oppositely attracted to the nucleus and so are the planets to the sun. Their relationship is unique and can be very well represented by the maharaas. Rutherford's model of the atomic structure or Copernicus's and Kepler's model of the solar system can easily be explained by the maharaas that was either conceived, or who knows, happened, thousands of years ago. The gopis represent the electrons and the planets and Krishna, the nucleus and the Sun, respectively.
It is because of this that a single Krishna is shown to dance with any number of gopis. Ordinarily it is not possible for a single man to dance with many women at a time. Ordinarily no man can be in love with many women together, but Krishna does it, and does it beautifully. It is amazing that every milkmaid, every gopi taking part in the maharaas, believes that Krishna is dancing with her, that he is hers. It seems Krishna has turned into a thousand Krishnas so that he pairs off with each of the thousand women present there. It is just a representation, an imagination to make humankind understand the great mysteries of chemistry and physics and astronomy in the simplest terms.
It is utterly wrong to take the maharaas, the celebration dance of Krishna, as that of an individual person. Krishna is not a person here; he represents the great male energy, purusha. The maharaas is a representation in dance of the great meeting between male and female energies. But the question is: Why is only dance chosen as a medium for this representation? The medium of dance comes nearest to the mysterious, to the non-dual, and to celebration. Nothing can express it better than dance. The celestial dance is happening every moment, every second, in every atom and the ethereal cosmos, whether we see it or not.
Let us look at it in another way. Dance is the most primitive form of human language, because when man had not yet learned to speak, he spoke through gestures. If one man had to communicate with another, he made gestures with his face, his eyes, his hands and feet. Even today a dumb person only expresses himself through gestures. Verbal language came much later. Birds don't know a language, but they know how to chirp and dance together. Gestures make up the whole language of nature. It is used and understood all over. So there is a reason why dance came to center stage for the raas, the celebration.
Gesture is the most profound medium of expression because it touches the deepest parts of man's mind and heart. Dance reaches where words fail. The sound of the ankle bells of a dancer says a lot even where speech is ineffective. Dance is more articulate than anything else. A dancer can go from one end of the earth to another and will, more or less, make himself understood through his dance. No language will be needed to understand and appreciate him. No particular level of civilization and culture will be required to understand a dance. Dance is a kind of universal language; it is understood everywhere on this planet. Wherever a dancer goes he will be understood. Man's collective unconscious is well aware of this language.
To me, the great raas happening in infinite space, with millions of stars like the sun and moon dancing rhythmically, is not an ordinary dance. The atomic "dance" is now known to everyone. It is not meant for entertainment; it is not show business. In a sense it should be described as overflowing bliss. There is such an abundance of bliss in the heart of existence that it is flowing, overflowing. That is what we call the river of existence. The presence of the polar opposites in the universe facilitates its flow.
There is a significant saying of Nietzsche's. He says, "It is out of chaos that stars are born." Where there is no system, no order, only the interplay of energies remains. In this interplay of energies, which is raas, Krishna and his milkmaids cease to be individuals, they move as pure energies. And this dance of opposite energies together brings deep contentment and bliss; it turns into an outpouring of joy and bliss. Rising from Krishna's raas this bliss expands and permeates every fiber of the universe.
Although Krishna and the gopis are no more with us as people, the moon and the stars under which they danced together are still with us, and so are the trees and the hills and the earth and the skies that were once so drunk with the bliss of the raas. So, although millenia have passed, the vibes of the maharaas are still with us.
Now scientists have come forward with a strange theory. They say although people come and go, the subtle vibes of their lives and their living remain suffused in existence forever. If someone goes to dance on the grounds in Vrindavan where Krishna once danced with his gopis he can hear the echoes of the maharaas even today. If someone can play a flute near the hills that in the past echoed with the music of Krishna's flute, he can hear those hills still echoing it, everlastingly.
In my view, the raas symbolizes the overflowing, outpouring of the primeval energy as it is divided between opposites. And if we accept this definition, the raas is as relevant today as it was in the times of Krishna. Then it becomes everlastingly relevant. May we always be blissful and perceive this cosmic dance, not just on the full moon of autumn (Sharad Poornima), but every day, every moment. May this maharaas fill us with joy and peace. Greetings on this auspicious festival!
Sharad Poornima (The autumn full moon) was yesterday on the 22nd October.