One of the most important aspects of the festival Janmashtami is Rasleela. Rasleela is a divine sport (Kreeda), which Sri krishna played with his gopis on the banks of river Yamuna in Vrindavan. Radha was the most important gopi and closest to the Lord. Her love for Lord Krishna was complete and in its purest form. Sri Krishna was ten years old when he performed Rasleela. Rasleelas are particularly performed in the city of Vrindavan.
According to Bhagavata Puran, Lord Krishna was loved immensely by gopis. The love gopis felt for Lord was not carnal,it was prerna (Divine love).The love for Sri Krishna was so strong that gopis forgot all about their worldly chores. The gopis were totally merged in the love of god through the practice of constant smaran (remembrance).
Performance of Rasleela
Lord Krishna promised gopis that he will dance with all of them. So Bhagwan Krishna stood in the centre suurounded by gopis who danced and sang in the glory of Lord. Sometimes Sri Krishna would put his arms around the neck of gopis and all of them would dance together. All the demigods, like Gandharva, Yakshas were witness of the divine dance, as they threw flowers from the sky, giving their blessings. The gopis would rejoice with sheer bliss in the company of the lord and consider themselves fortunate
Disappearance of God during Rasleela
Dancing almost every full moon night during autumn made the gopis conceited. They started considering themselves superior to other women who were not fortunate enough to be with Lord Krishna. One night during Rasleela, lord Krishna did the disappearing act to teach them a lesson of humility. Not finding Krishna amongst them, the gopis started feeling the agony of desertion. Overwhelmed with grief, they started searching for God and prayed him to come back. During their search for Lord they sang songs popularly known as Gopika Gitam. Lord returned after many pleadings.
Rasleela in its present form
In the current age, Rasleela is performed only by Brahmin boys between the age of 10-13 years. The main theme of rasleela revolves around the formative years of Lord Krishna. There are five main raslilas performed like janamleela- details regarding the birth of Lord Krishna, Shankarleela, Putanaleela- Killing of demoness Putana, And Nagleela- killing of the dreaded serpent Kaliya . They are performed by professional troupes with utmost devotion and love. The troupe captivates the audience with their performance. Rasleelas are usually performed in the local language, Brajbhasa, which is somewhat similar to Hindi language and therefore easy to understand. At the end of the performance, devotees throng to touch the feet of the young boy dressed as Lord Krishna. The young boy ceases to be human for the devotees and becomes a divine being during the festival.
Rasleelas are performed by various renowned theater groups, plays are stages with celebrities playing the lead roles to mark the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna.