Ras lila means the Dance of the Divine Love. Here, Shri Krishna is the divine lover, dancer and musician and accompanied by Radha and the Gopis. The Ras Lila is merely not a dance of plain love, but signifies the individual soul (जीवात्मा) uniting with the Absolute (परमात्मा). It indicates that all the attachments get released from the world to unify with the Supreme Being. The परमात्मा is none other than Shri Krishna who dances with thousands of Gopis,ImageSource
who are the incarnations of great Rishis.
The Ras lila is described in the 10th canto of the Bhagavat Puran. It took place one night in Vrindavan on the banks of River Yamuna. Shri Krishna on a full moonlight day takes out his flute and plays it and calls out the Gopis of Vrindavan. The enchanting melody of the flute sways away everybody who listens to it. The Gopis leave their houses and families, come out of their houses and dance with him throughout the night. It is believed that Shri Krishna stretched this one night into the time span of Bramha Ji‘s one night which is equal to 4.32 billion years.
There is an interesting anecdote regarding who are actually the Gopis. Legend says that when Bhagwan Ram was in the Dandak forest during his exile, he visited the hermitages of great Rishis and protected them from the demons. However, as he was roaming all over the forest and not staying at one place, the Rishis request him to spend some time with them so that they can serve him. Listening to their request, he promised them that he would spend time with them during his incarnation as Shri Krishna. Hence, in the Dwapar Yug, the Rishis take birth as the Gopis. To keep up his promise, Shri Krishna stretches the Ras Lila night into such a long time, spends time with them and grants the wishes of the sages and blesses them.
The Ras Lila is a dance surrounded by an aura of love and devotion. It indicates the nature of true devotion. Here, Shri Krishna is the Absolute God, the Gopis are the devotees and the surroundings of Vrindavan are the calm representation of one’s mind when he is filled with the pure thoughts of God.
The Gopis leave everything and come to Shri Krishna with an unconditional love and devotion and that is the essence of pure bhakti. Each Gopi is his eternal devotee, and hence Shri Krishna dances with each and every Gopi on the banks of Yamuna. However, his pure love goes out for his beloved Radha and without Radha, the Ras Lila is said to be incomplete.
Just as Shiv and Parvathi are regarded as the Prakriti and the Purusha, here, it is Radha and Krishna who are regarded as the same. In this dance, the feminine and the masculine divinity come together and become ONE. The gopis who dance around them are the जीवात्मा who have only one goal which is to realise the परमात्मा.
The Ras lila is one of the very popular dance themes in the Hindu tradition. Apart from being a celebrated dance in the varied folk dances of India, it has been practised as a prominent theme among the classical dances of India namely, Kathak, Manipuri, Odissi and Kuchipudi. Be it any region or tradition, the essence of the dance remains the same, of surrendering oneself unconditionally to the Absolute.