Dahi Handi (dahi: curd, handi: earthen pot) is an Indian festival, celebrated every August, that involves making a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot filled with curd tied at a convenient height. This event is based on the legend of the child-god Krishna stealing butter. A participant in this festival is called a govinda or govinda pathak. It is mostly popular in the state of Maharashtra and Mumbai. It is part of the main festival Gokulashtami, which is known as Krishna Janmashtami in the rest of the country, and celebrates the birth of Krishna.
The child-god Krishna and his friends used to form human pyramids to break pots hung from the ceilings of neighbourhood houses, in order to steal curd and butter. This was in Vrindavan, a village in Uttar Pradesh, India, where Krishna was brought up. He used to distribute it among his friends because during King Kaunsa's rule (his maternal uncle), their parents were forced to give everything produced to Kaunsa's home in Mathura. The children of Vrindavan village were thus deprived of milk products.
Significance and description
The Dahi Handi (dahi: curd, handi: earthen pot) festival is popular in the Maharashtra state of India and in Mumbai. It is organized roughly every August. The festival Gokulashtami, known as Krishna Janmashtami in the rest of the country, is the celebration of Krishna's birth and Dahi Handi is part of it. The event involves making a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot filled with milk, curd, butter, fruits and water which is hung at a convenient height, thus imitating the actions of child Krishna. Sometimes the prize money is added to the pot instead.
The terms govinda (also another name of Krishna) or govinda pathak are used to refer to the people who participate in forming this human pyramid. They practise in groups weeks before the actual event. These groups are called mandals and they go around the local areas, attempting to break as many pots as possible during the event. Pyramid formation needs coordination and focus; the lowest layers consist of the most number of people, preferably sturdy, while the middle layer players need to pay attention to those below as well as the others standing on their shoulders. The outer layer individuals need to focus on maintaining balance. As lighter people are needed higher up, the topmost layer usually has a single child. Breaking the pot usually ends up with the contents spilling over the participants. Traditionally, spectators threw water on the participants to deter them and people chant in Marathi "Ala re ala, Govinda ala" (govindas have arrived). The pyramid formation is often accompanied by crowds, music and dancing.
Celebration and economics
The participants form a pyramid consisting usually below 9-tiers, and are given three attempts to break the earthen pot. Every year thousands of people and hundreds of govinda teams gather at Mumbai and Thane's Dahi Handi events. As of 2011[update], the prize money for the events usually range between ₹1 lakh (US$1,500)–₹12 lakh (US$18,000) depending on the organizers and its sponsors. Each year, the prizes and scale of the celebrations increase due to the participation of political parties and commercialisation.
Local and state political parties like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), are active during this event, with each offering their own prize money. Each party sponsors its own set of mandals. Their involvement has increased in the 2000s, thereby increasing competition and prize money. Thus, numerous teams compete against each other in successive events for the prizes throughout the city. Actors from Bollywood, Marathi actors and singers take part in this event. Some mandals even incorporated social messages like female foeticide or about the environment into their act; the Shiv Sena and MNS focus on Marathi culture. In some years, Castellers from Spain also take part in the competition.
In 2012, a mandal called Jai Jawan Govinda Pathak from Jogeshwari, Mumbai, made an entry into the Guinness World Record by forming a human pyramid of 9-tiers 43.79 feet (13.35 m) at the Dahi Handi event held in Thane; the previous record was held by Spain since 1981. A lobby pushed for the possibility of making it an official sport in the same year, which critics said that it should remain just a street celebration.
The presence of these mass celebrations and mandals cause traffic congestion and problems like excessive littering. It also causes the issue of sound pollution, with the Supreme Court of India's prescribed guidelines being 55–65 decibels. Participation carries a high risk of mortality. The number of injuries increased due to higher competition since 2000. A report in 2012 from the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, concluded that "There is a considerable risk of serious, life-threatening injuries inherent to human pyramid formation and descent in the Dahihandi festival". It recommended safety guidelines like reducing the height of the pot, preventing children from participating and using safety gear.
In 2012, over 225 govindas were injured with one casualty; this was higher than the previous year's 205. The government of Maharashtra banned children below 12 years from participating in 2014. The Bombay High Court later ruled in August that the minimum age should be raised to 18 years and height of the pyramid should be no more than 20 feet due to safety reasons. This was challenged by the organisers to the Supreme Court, which kept it on hold—allowing children above 12 years to participate.
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