The Shravan Cultural Festival, at Jai Singh Ghera concluded on a high note on Thursday, with its fortnight long Raas Lila attracting large crowds. Raas Lila is a popular form of folk theatre in Vraja.
The Cultural Festival organized on the occasion of the Jhulanotsava, was held at the Gambhira in Jai Singh Ghera. Amidst the exquisite Chaitanya Lila and Krishna Lila performances by the various artists, the devotees worshiped the artists who played the roles of Radha Krishna and Gour Nitai.
Although the Raas Lila is performed in most of the towns and villages of Vraja, and especially in Vrindavan during the month of Shravan, but the one organised at Jai Singh Ghera is unique, as it is the site where a stage was made for performing the Raas in 1710.
Since then, many of the most famous Raasacharyas have performed on the stage of the ashram, including the late Padmashree Swami Har Govinda Sharma and Padmashree Swami Ram Swaroop Sharma. Currently, the Raas Lila is being performed by Swami Fateh Krishna, who has a great following among the devotees.
Built in 1707 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, Jai Singh Ghera is the oldest stage built expressly for Raas Lila in Vrindavan, if not in India. Maharaja Jai Singh, who was the General in Aurangzeb’s army earlier, built Jai Singh Ghera as a place where he used to reside with all the intellectuals of the town, while his troops were stationed at Jai Singh Pura in Mathura.
Having a deep interest in the pastimes of Shri Krishna, Maharaja Jai Singh started Raas Lila in 1710 on a platform built at Jai Singh Ghera. The purpose for organising Ras Lila in this way was to create interest of the common people, in the rich culture and tradition of Vraja Bhumi. He wrote many commentaries on the books written by the Six Goswami’s so that the common man can also experience the pastimes of Radha and Krishna.
Later on Maharaja Jai Singh planned the layout of the city of Jaipur while residing in Vrindavan in 1723, which was completed in the year 1727 after which he went to Jaipur, and never returned. These tales have also been documented by Seth Govind Das and Ram Narayan Agrawal in their books.
In the year 1962, Jagat Guru Purushottam Goswami purchased the property of Jai Singh Ghera from the Government of Rajasthan to give a new direction to the dying Ras Lila of Vraja. He was associated with Ras Lila’s since 1950’s when he developed an interest to spread the message to all, like Maharaja Jai Singh. As a result he also established Shri Chaitanya Prema Samsthana in 1972 so that more and more people could be associated with Ras and get to know about Radha and Krishna. That time he had famous theatre artists like
Kanhaiya Lal and Chanthi Baba in his “Ras Mandali” (drama group), Hari Baba, Swami Parmanand was already associated with him since 1950, who were the founders of world famous “Gaur Lila” depicting the character of Gaurang Mahaprabhu.
Jagat Guru Purushottam Goswami ji Maharaj took a lot of initiatives to revive the culture and tradition of Vraja. He ensured the staging of the regular Ras Lila at Jai Singh Ghera since 1962. He also trained Swami Chaitanya Pal group to perform daily Raas at that time. Some new Raas Lila like “Kaak-Malya lila”, “Kalank Bhanjan lila” and “Swapna Vilas lila” were introduced to the world by him. He also innovated by being the first to use stage effects like colour lighting during Raas. Along with that, at times he used to keep a real boat on the stage for Nauka lila, or would organise actual rainfall to pour on the stage to give a dramatic effect, unlike previous stagings of any form of drama in this region.
In the year 1974, Jagat Guru also introduced “Ashtayam Lila Chintam” which was a Raas Lila centered on a day in the life of Radha and Krishna, i.e., the nitya vihara. The artists used to perform all day according to the original timings of the incidents as given in the Vaishnava shastras. A huge theatre was prepared for it, with all natural items and no tableau. All new things were used to develop the stage as Purushottam Goswami considered it as a service towards the Lord, for whom he wanted to use all natural things. It was performed by Swami Ram Swaroop Sharma.
An “Ashtayam Lila Chintam” of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was also done for the first time in 1985, on the 500th anniversary of Mahaprabhu.
Having revitalized the Raas Lila tradition in Vrindavan, Purushottam Goswami took it to other parts of India, mainly non-Hindi speaking states. In the year 1983, the then Director of UNESCO, Dr. Habib Touma, invited him to perform Ras Lila in Europe. Shri Purushottam Goswami readily agreed to the offer, with a condition, that the Raas would only be performed if all the requirements were met by the Ras Lila troupe, which was agreed upon, and the troupe visited Europe.
A famous incident occurred in Holland, when the black curtains were changed to red and yellow at the Opera Hall, for the first time in the millennial history of Opera.
In Berlin also, during the performance of Ras Lila at the Berlin Museum, they were not allowed to do aarati initially because the Fire Department did not give its approval. Later on the artists succeeded in convincing the Fire Chief, despite of all odds, and aarati was performed four times daily, with the Fire Chief standing bare-footed on the stage to deal with any adverse situation!
In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi sent this team of Jagat Guru Purushottam Goswami to France to participate in the “Bharat Mahotsav” celebrations. It was known as “The Year of India in France” or “L’Année de l’Inde en France” in French.
Jagat Guru Purushottam Goswami ji had always tried to save the tradition of Raas Lila and spread Krishna consciousness to more and more people. He always used to think Raas as a service to Lord, due to which he never sat during Ras Lila. He was also the part of the performers lead by Meghshyam Ji Maharaj who introduced the use of harmonium in Raas Lila in 1950’s. In 1974, he took the initiative to save the dying art of Dhrupad and organised an annual festival by the name Dhrupad Mela. This 8-day festival ran for 18 years, after which it was halted due to increasing costs.
A “Dhrupad Gurukul” was also established at Jai Sigh Ghera to groom new performers.
Now as Jagat Guru has grown old, his son and world famed Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami has taken charge to carry on the tradition by organising Raas Lila at Jai Singh Ghera. Fateh Krishna, a world famous performer, leads the Ras Lila performance today on the oldest platform of Vraja.
Even today, Jai Singh Ghera has no chairs to offer to audience respecting the “bhav” of Ras Lila. Moreover, Ras was always performed in the local language of Braja bhasha so that it’s easy for locals’ to understand the emotions. Even the songs and dance are of local folk form so that the audience can connect it to Krishna’s time. The stage also doesn’t have any tableaus or artificial stuff except basic stuff to highlight the importance of bhav in artists. The Ras is mainly organised for sants and widows and not for rich people so that the bhav of service, and not of earning money, can be maintained.
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