Raslila has a basic script which has to be followed, but it has enough scope for improvisation as well. Though the emphasis of Raslila is on ‘darshan’ or the visual appeal, it is important to capture the ‘bhava’ or the sentiment. This is done through music, dance and drama enacted by the actors.
The various ‘raasas’ or dramatic flavors like friendship, conjugal love, parental love, amazement, compassion, humour, chivalry, fury, fear and dread are expressed through this traditional folk form.
The range of the villagers who perform raslila is quite vast. They perform legends that portray different stages of Krishna’s youth. In some areas of Uttar Pradesh raslila is performed only by Brahmin boys in the age group of 13 to 14 years.
Even now, many roles of sakhis or mother of Radha and Krishna are performed by men disguised as women. Raslila is also performed by mobile troupes moving from village to village. A traditional raslila usually lasts for three and a half hours.
The dance form was originated during the amorous encounters of milkmaids with Lord Krishna. Legend goes that when all the milkmaids started demanding Krishna to be their dance partner, Krishna cast a spell so that each of those milkmaid thought Krishna wasdancing with them. This marked the birth of Raslila.
Raslila is generally performed by mobile troupes that roam around village to village. This dance is performed primarily on Rasia, a song form that is entirely based on the theme of Krishna-Radha love. Raslila is a folk tradition that has incorporated elements of Indian classical music, drama and dance. This presentation goes beyond professionalism. Though the dramas have basic scripts there is ample room for improvisation and extemporization, only to return to its formal delineation after the inspiration of the creative force is consumed.
The emphasis is on ‘seeing through sound’ (darshan). The visual sense is to enhance, but the ultimate ingredient is the ‘bhava’, a particular mood or sentiment conveyed by the music and songs, which along with the action of the drama enable the actors and the audience to personally taste the different dramatic flavors, such as friendship, servitor ship, parental love, conjugal love, amazement, humor, chivalry, compassion, fury, fear and dread.