By Swami Harshananda
Rāsalīlā is the group-dance that Kṛṣṇa performed with the gopīs of Vṛndāvana. It is even known as Rāsakrīḍā. It has been described in detail in the Bhāgavata. These five chapters are generally called Rāsapañcādhyāyi. This important episode has been described in the Viṣṇupurāṇa and the Harivanśa also, though more briefly.
Kṛṣṇa started playing some tantalizing tunes on his flute one night during autumn, sitting on the bank of the river Yamunā. The music was so enchanting that all the gopīs of Vṛndāvana were irresistibly drawn to him. They hurried to him and gathered round him.
As if he did not know why they had come, Kṛṣṇa nonchalantly advised them to return to their homes to which they refused. Understanding their single-minded devotion and desire, Kṛṣṇa played amorous sports with them for some time. When the gopīs became inebriated with pride, because they had the great Kṛṣṇa himself for their lover, he suddenly disappeared from their midst by his inscrutable māyā power.
The gopīs were now smitten with intense remorse and started madly loitering in the forest region there in search of him. When they failed to trace him, they assembled in one place and started praying, pouring out the anguish that was burning their whole being. This part of the Bhāgavata is well-known as the Gopigitā or Gopikāgitā. It is full of the pathos of the intense pain of separation of the beloved from the lover.
Moved by their piteous cries, Kṛṣna reappeared in their midst and danced the Rāsalīlā, multiplying himself to be with each of the gopīs. Thus spending the whole night happily with him, they most unwillingly, returned home at daybreak. Even though the gopīs had spent the whole night with Kṛṣṇa, their husbands found them to be with them all the while due to his māyā.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore