The word Rasa-lila, arrived at by the sandhi (meeting of two words) of “Rasa” meaning aesthetics and Lila meaning “Dance” can be loosely translated as “The Dance Divine“. It has also been a subject of much derision and mirth for Hindus themselves and a stick to beat the Hindu religion for people of other religions.
A reading of the section from the “Rasa Lila episode of the Srimad Bhagavata under “The Gopis plea” (verses 31-41), should clarify the true purport of this “play” of the divine:
…”Lord, we have abandoned our all to serve thy feet. Accept us as the Supreme Being accepts all who go to him seeking liberation”Abandon us not, O Thou of mysterious ways! who art the source of all codes, the Lord of all, the topic of instruction for all scriptures and teachers – For art Thou not the closest relative, the dearest object of Love for all Jivas, being the soul of their souls? The really wise man entertains love only to Thee – the ever lovable Soul of one’s soul…”
Sanatana Dharma talks about the 9 modes of Bhakthi or devotion – Shravana (listening to the glories of the lord), Kirtana (Singing), Smarana (Constant remembrance), Archana (Worship), Paadasevana (Service of the needy) , Vandana (Prayer and Prostration), Dasyatva (Lord-servant relationship), Sakhya (The lord is my friend), Atmanivedan (Surrender, Sharanagathi)
The Rasa-Lila of the Gopis would fall under the category of Atmanivedana, complete surrender to the Supreme being the indwelling atman where all body-consciousness is lost, and sex is sublimated in the divine essence of the lord of love within.
Mira Bai the 16th century mystic was a living example of this. She was in every sense a Gopi, she thought of herself as Radha and her Giridhar was all that mattered to he:
“Friends, I am completely dyed in this (i.e. Krishna’s) colour. I drank the cup of immortal bliss, and became drunk. My inebriation never goes away, however many crores of ways I try “*
“Mira danced with ankle-bells on her feet. People called Mira mad; my mother-in-law said I ruined the family reputation. Rana sent me a cup of poison and Mira drank it laughing. I have dedicated my body and soul at the feet of Hari. I thirst for the nectar of the sight of him. Mira’s lord is Giridhar Nagar; I come for refuge to him…“*
The last word on this has to be left to the inimitable Osho (Rajneesh):
“Rasalila is dance of Cosmic Consciousness with individualised Consciousness, It is a State of Mind were bliss manifests. One can experience this the way Sufis experienced. This (Rasalila) is Maharaas where Krishna represents the whole of the male element in creation known in sanskrit as the Purusha. The Gopis represent the entire female principle of Prakriti and this Maharaas represents the combine dance of Prakriti and Purusha… ” – Krishna, the man and his Philosophy by Osho; Chapter 9: The Cosmos is a dance of Opposites.