In the Indian artistic tradition, a fine example of the expression of the culmination of Bhakti, or devotion, is the Maha Raas Leela, or the divine dance of Krishna and the gopi’s. Drawn from Pauranic literature and a favourite theme of Pichwai artists, various versions of this Leela delight the devotee and atheist alike.
A perfect moonlit night. Verdant, lush green surroundings. A river flowing gently, made more beautiful by lotus flowers in full bloom. Musicians plucking the strings of melodies that anchor the heart in peace.
A perfect setting for the play of the Lord. So perfect that even the gods gather in the skies above to revel in the scene that is being played out on earth! Mystic symbolism at its’ best, this beautiful scene hints at the achievement of the most esoteric goal of man, the union of the jivatma, ego, with the Paramatma, Supreme Self. It takes a perfect devotee who has surrendered worldly pursuits in search of the oneness to recognise it.
On this particular evening, they came out of their homes after the days’ work was done to find Krishna. Expecting to find him easily, they’re caught by surprise by Krishna who appears - and disappears. They spot him now ... but lose sight. Their thirsty hearts search and they behold him for just a moment, only to lose sight again!
They feel jealous – did he go away with one of them? Does he not love them all? They’re hurt, and angry. They despair and lament! As they sink into a quagmire of emotions, they realise they can’t see him at all, not even a short glimpse anymore.
Deeply mystical truths lie at the heart of this story. For really, when the ego is at play, where is the space for the divine in our heart? Being highly evolved devotees, the gopi’s realise his absence is because of their emotions, their feeling of separateness. They surrender to him, only praying with deep bhakti, or love, for him to return.
At this magical moment … this moment of light at the end of the seeker’s search, when the seeker melds into that which is sought … they see him again and each Gopi feels his complete presence and full attention. The heart dances in love, united with the beloved, in a circle. Krishna beside each one of them, Krishna in the centre. The One in the many, the One because of which we are. Is it any surprise the dance is so captivating that the other gods come out from their abodes to feast their eyes on this Krishna Leela on earth?
The beauty of the painting is its’ ability to not only please the eye but also to engage the mind to help it rise from the mundane to the divine. To let it surrender its cares, rest for a few moments in bhakti, deriving strength before it goes on to tackle another day.