Miracle Plays of Mathura - Raslila Troupes of Braj, Part 3

BY: SUN STAFF


Aug 12, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — Reprise of a 2007 series on the Miracle Plays of Mathura.

In his book Miracle Plays of Mathura, author Norvin Hein deconstructs the unique program elements comprising a traditional Braj raslila performance. "The analysis of a raslila performance must begin with notice of its two radically different parts, the ras and the lila. The ras portion, so named because its principal feature is the set of dances called the ras, is a ritual enactment of the most sacred of all Krsnaite stories, the incident of Krsna's dance with the gopis.

This dance alone can be called the raslila also, since the dancing of the ras was one of Krsna's lilas or sportive acts. But it is conventional and also convenient to use the term ras as a specific designation for only the initial portion of the performance and to reserve the word lila for the latter part of the drama, which deals with any one of a great number of Krsna's lilas and which cannot, therefore, be indicated by any single proper name. Thus we have in the raslila a coupling of an enactment of the moonlight dance of Krsna with a dramatization of some other deed of his.

There is no continuity of substance between these two parts of the performance, but they are supplemental in their emotional effect. The ras, which occupies the first third of a performance lasting somewhat over two hours, focuses attention and initiates the flow of feeling by rehearsing an ever-beloved theme. It prepares its viewwer4s for listening to the less familiar material with appreciation.

The ras part of a raslila is itself complex, having six or seven principal elements. Some have traditional names, but for others names have had to be improvised:

    1. Mangalacaran
    2. Arati
    3. Gopi-prarthana
    4. Petition to Radha to dance the ras
    5. The ras dances (which take ten forms, or more)
    6. Concluding hymn or hymns
    7. Pravacan (sometimes omitted)

We shall describe these elements now as they unfold in a typical performance.

1. Mangalacaran

For some minutes after the actors have entered the theater, they sit quietly on the dais, giving darshan to their devotees. During this calm period the swami of the troupe sings a sing of praise or invocation known as the mangalacaran. If the troupe is in no hurry to finish the performance, other musicians may contribute additional songs of the same sort. The literature of Braj-bhasha devotional poetry suitable for this purpose is vast but largely unpublished. The simple example below was sung by Swami Damodar at Bansibat in Vrindaban on October 29, 1949:

    Sing the praise of the excellent Prince of Braj!
    Sing of that excellent Ocean of Bliss!
    Sing of him who is pleasing to devotees' hearts.
    Sing the praise of the excellent darling girl and charming boy!

2. Arati

As the mangalacaran comes to a close, an attendant brings in a brass tray strewn with flower petals. It bears a small oil lamp with one ore more flaming wicks, or on occasion, an upturned cluster of burning incense sticks. A gopi steps forth from her seat and receives the plate. Standing before Krsna and Radha, she waves it about in a vertical plane. [1] The audience rises to its feet as this ceremony begins. The gopi joins with the musicians of the troupe in singing an arati song, of which the following is representative [2]:

    Perform the flame-worship of the Youthful Pair!
    Offer up body, mind, and wealth!
    Light of hue is Vrishabhanu's daughter,
    Dusky the face of the Sporter in the Groves.
    Drink in the very nectar of the enjoyment of romance!
    Perform the flame-worship of the Youthful Pair!
    May they who are the supremely blissful unchanging Lords,
    May they who are the supremely blissful unchanging Lords,
    May Radha and Mohan live long!
    See such decorate as that of the Romantic Ones
    And bring fruition to your eyes!
    Perform the flame-worship of the Youthful Pair!

3. Gopi-prarthana

The gopis now descend to the floor and stand before Radha and Krsna, two on each side of the throne. One of them addresses Krsna in words that never vary:

    aj nitya ke ras bihar kau samay hvai gayau hai
    so kripa karke rasmandal men padharau!

Today the time for the regular ras sport has come. So graciously betake yourself to the ras circle!

To this Krsna replies, 'Achau, sakhi!' or 'Very well, friend!'

4. Petition to Radha to dance the ras

Having agreed to dance the ras, Krsna now turns to Radha to ask her company. Commonly he does so in the following song and prose speech:

    Come along, maiden, into the romantic ras!
    It is thou who art the wealth of my life,
    O Darling Daughter of Vrishabhanu!
    The embodiment of Vrindaban's treasure art thou,
    Reciting the songs in matchless tunes.
    Come, dear, thou delicate one! I am they slave, they admirer!
    Come, dear, thou delicate one! I am they slave, they admirer!
    Come along, maiden, into the romantic ras!
    Thou art the wealth of my life,
    O Darling Daughter of Vrishabhanu!

    The time of the regular ras has come, dear; graciously betake yourself to the ras!

Radha then agrees to join Krsna in the dance, usually expressing her willingness in a song full of endearments to which Krsna responds in kind. The two rise, step down to the floor, and form a line with the gopis at the base of the throne. All the while, the couple continue to address each other in song. The following lines are often sung by Radha while accepting the invitation to the ras:

    Thank you, thank you, O thou Dear-as-my-life!
    In my heart enthusiasm always dwells in abundance.
    O thou diadem-jewel among lovers, thou diffuser of romance!
    O thou diadem-jewel among lovers, thou diffuser of romance!
    Take along the crowd of Braj damsels, meet at Vrindaban, do the sports!
    Thank you, thank you!
    Let Lalita and the other all speak to their Lover,
    Let Lalita and the other all speak to their Lover,
    Placing their faces on his belled feet,
    'Thank you, thank you, O thou Dear-as-my-life!'

    Singing music with the voice,
    For romantic folk great joy will spring up.
    Come, let us go; please come now to the circle!
    Come, let us go; please come now to the circle!
    Come, please do it now, Dear Girl, Dear Boy!
    Make the nectar of love rain down upon the forest!
    Thank you, thank you, O thou Dear-as-my-life!

Sometimes while singing this or a similar song, the line of actors repeatedly advances into the stage a few steps and retreats to the original position. The players of some troupes march smartly across the stage at each refrain, whirl, and return. When this song is finished, the preliminaries are over, and the ras dances are ready to begin.

In our next segment, we will continue with the remaining three elements of the traditional raslila performance.


FOOTNOTES:

[1] In the Sanskrit drama, Gopalakelicandrika, Krsna on entering is accorded a ceremony similar to this under the name nirajana. See Caland, pp. 9, 48.
[2] This and subsequent songs of the ras are given as recorded by Swami Kunvar Pal and transcribed by Govind das Gupta, M.A.


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