Dahi Handi: From a ritual to sport
On the day of Lord Krishna’s birthday the whole city comes together and celebrates his Janamashtami with enthusiasm. Lord Krishna was playful and notorious,he used to steal curd or butter from handis in his house. And since then to remember Lord Krishna people all across Maharashtra and several other parts of the country celebrate the festival with the breaking of the Handi. The Handi is usually placed sky high in the air. Young ,strong boys and girls climb on top of each other and form a human pyramid. Their sole aim is to break the Handi. Usually the smallest member of the group is aged about 8-9 years is called a Govinda. The entire group consisting of 80-90 members is called a Gopala Mandal. The crowd participates by singing the lyrics of the famous song “Ala re ala,matki sambhal brijbala”. The ritual of breaking the Handi was started in the eightennth century by a community called Pathre Prabhu in Girgaum in Mumbai. Jay Bharat Seva Sangh is one of the most popular gopala groups in Mumbai.
Every year several Handi’s are placed in mostly every big neighborhood for the gopala’s and govinda’s to break. Every year massive crowds gather to see the spectacle. Every year Lord Krishna is remembered. And not to forget every year many people die or get injured during the event.
Earlier breaking the Dahi Handi was a small affair with not too much to lose or gain. Nowadays the ritual of Dahi Handi has become a sport. A sport which indeed requires skill,stamina and passion. The gopala mandals start practicing for the sky high stunt approximately 2-3 months before Janamashtami. Nowadays sponsors shoulder the expenses like clothes,food and equipment. The main event is organized by political leaders on a grand scale. The winning gopala mandal gets a cash prize.
We as spectators would love to see a grand show of a gopala mandal forming a strong human pyramid and the govinda breaking the Handi. Earlier the members of the gopala mandals used to die or endure severe injuries during practicing, now they are trained under a professional, their clothes are being sponsored and the most important their health is taken care of. Earlier after practicing for months they never used to get anything for their passion and commitment now they are showered with praises and prizes. Earlier there weren’t any proper arenas or places where such events were being organized,but nowadays political leaders organize big events which gives a platform for these gopala mandals to participate.
One such event which was celebrated in a grand scale was the Dahi Handi event in Worli. It was organised by NCP minister Mr.Sachin Ahir, Minister of State Housing and his wife Sangeeta Ahir through their NGO called the Shree Sankalp Pratisthan in Worli .Usually a cash prize is associated with winning the event. It attracted a lot of participation and crowd. When a spectator enters the arena all that catches the eye is truck full of strong men descending. If one looks up high in the air they would notice the Handi placed sky high with the help of a crane. A big poster of Bal Thackery was imposed on one side of the arena. The rehearsals started at 9am in the morning while the main event of breaking the handi was scheduled to happen at 6pm in the evening. Crowds gathered in huge numbers to watch the competition.
The excitement begins when the competition starts. Everyone’s eyes would be fixed on the govinda who will climb all the way to the top to break the Handi. They are not always successful. Every team was getting three chances,some failed in all. But what matters is their determination. When the formation used to break the team was showered with water and they had to start all over again.
One interesting observation was that when a particular gopala mandal was about to enter the arena their leader was motivating them and one group in particular was praying to Lord Ganesha as is shown in the video.
Though the main event was scheduled to be at 6pm in the evening. Actors like Hrithik Roshan, Esha Deol and Emraan Hashmi were present to grace the event. Prizes were distributed.
Though many players have entered the arena with their advertising and publicity, one should never forget their roots. On this auspicious occasion of Dahi Handi one should remember Lord Krishna and keeping him in mind should attempt standing atop 50 men and conquering the sky.