Agartala (Tripura) [India], Nov. 15 : Thousands of Manipuris celebrated "Maha Raas", a festival celebrating the love life of Lord Krishna.
The festival is celebrated every year on the full moon night of "Kartik Purnima" in the Hindu month "Kartik" to mark Krishna's love for Radha.
Girls in their traditional dresses danced round the idols of Lord Krishna and Radha. Dressed as "gopies", they sang devotional songs throughout the night at a local temple. The Maha Raas celebration started in Tripura more than two century ago in the Radha-Madhav Jews Temple.
Prior to partition, the devotees from far Syllhet and Comilla, in present Bangladesh, used to come and participate in the night-long festival.
The celebration started after a Maharani of the Manikya dynasty of Tripura, daughter of Manipur's Maharaja Bhagya Chandra, brought the idol of Radha-Govind from there and established a Radhamadhav temple here.
Tripura had a cultural and traditional bond with the Manipur kingdom that started more than 350 years back through matrimonial alliances.
In fact, Bhakti cult was also in progress in Tripura along with the Manipuri culture during Maharaja Krishna Chandra Manikya's reign in the late 18th century.
Today the festival is totally sponsored by the state government as per the treaty between the Manikya dynasty and Union Government during the time of merger of Tripura with the Indian union.
This is the 218th year of celebration of Raas, a festival of particularly the Hindu Manipuris. However, today both Bengalis and even the state's tribal population forgetting their religious and cultural identities participate in the night-long celebration said to be a platform of communal harmony.
Raas is a symbol of love and communal harmony. Forgetting all differences, the people of all communities gather here to celebrate the festival. Ajoy Saha, a non-Manipuri visitor, said: "We enjoy here every year. Though we are non-Manipuris but the people from various communities take part in this festival and celebrate.
We wait for the raas festival throughout the year so that we can take part in it." Abhiram Singha, one of the organizers, said: "Here the girls act as living gopies of Radha-Krishna.
In the earlier days, such big temple was not there but still the people from Bangladesh and other parts used to take part in the whole night programme." Neera Sinha, a participating dancer, said: "We call this 'maha-raas' and every year we celebrate this on the full moon night.
On maha-rass, we dance as gopies and really enjoy this right." Nipa pala is celebrated as invocation to Raas where pung (traditional drums) and kartals (small metallic musical instruments) are played.
The Radha Govindas' Raas dance is a classical form of dance and symbolizes the rich history and tradition of the Manipuri community.
It was Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who adopted the dance from the palace to Shantiniketan..