Mumbai’s Dahi Handi stakes run high, pyramids higher (Lead)

August 22nd, 2011 - 6:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Govinda Mumbai, Aug 22 (IANS) The city woke up to the beating of drums on the festival of Janmashtami Monday. With prize money worth lakhs dangled for them, many young men and women got together to form human pyramids to reach the pots of curd hung high and break them, a competition that’s part of the annual celebration of Lord Krishna’s birthday.

The young men who take part in this hugely popular and colourful spectacle called Dahi Handi are known as Govindas. In the adjoining city of Thane, some of them aimed to break the world record of a nine-layer pyramid by striving to make a 10-tier one.

At big venues like those in Thane and Ghatkopar in central Mumbai and Worli in south Mumbai, the prize money ranges from Rs.25 lakh to Rs.1 crore for those who break a seven-to-10-tier pyramid.

A slew of cultural events like Lavni or Marathi folk dance performances, music, skits and one-act plays added to the already charged up atmosphere at these venues.

The celebrity quotient is also expected to be high at these venues.

While Thane’s Sangharsh Govinda Mandal will be joined by Spanish nationals, actors like John Abraham, Isha Koppikar, Malaika Arora Khan, Salman Khan and singers Mika and Sukhvinder Singh will cheer the crowds at Ghatkopar’s Ram Kadam Dahi Handi and Worli’s Sankalp Pratishthan.

“Mera Govinda hi mera Amitabh hai (My Govinda is my Amitabh),” said Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator Jitendra Awhad, who organised the event at Thane.

Shiv Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik, who has been organising his Sanskruti Yuva Pratishthan handi in Thane for 14 years, has got Bollywood art director Nitin Desai to build a special stage this year.

Sarnaik, who has invited several women’s Govinda groups to break the handi, said these groups will be rewarded well for their grit and effort.

“Any women’s group that reaches up to seven tiers will get a cash prize of Rs.5 lakh,” said Sarnaik.

As big venus enjoyed much of action and attention, smaller groups too were not left behind.

Housing societies and resident associations across Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai celebrated the day with equal fervour — dancing to the beat of drums and some foot-tapping songs, and, of course, breaking of the handi.

“We aimed at celebrating the festival in a safe manner. We tried to keep the handi at a manageable height as we did not want to risk the lives of any of our Govindas,” said Manish Patil from a group in Borivli in north-west Mumbai.

Special festivities for children were also held at many venues. Competitions like fancy dress and musical chairs kept the children busy. “Moreover, this will keep them from asking us to let them be a part of the human pyramid,” said Rajan Shah from Kandivli in north-west Mumbai.

“Even a two or three-tier pyramid can be risky for children. At the same time, they also should not feel left out of the celebrations,” he added.

The organisers at various housing societies also arranged for sweets to be distributed amongst the residents.

“Dahi Handi is the celebration of the spirit of Lord Krishna who loved eating curd and butter and broke earthen pots to eat them,” said Ananya S. from a housing society in Dadar in south-central Mumbai.

State Housing Minister Sachin Ahir, who organises the Sankalp Pratishthan Dahi Handi at Worli’s Jamboree Maidan, plans to honour every team that makes seven- and eight-tier pyramids with a gift, besides awarding prize money to the top three winners.

Dahi Handi generally takes place on the second day of Janmashtami. An earthen pot containing a mixture of milk, dry fruits, ghee or curd is hung around 20-30 feet high in the air with the help of a rope.

Enthusiastic young men form a human pyramid, one ring of volunteers standing on the shoulders of another, until they reach the height where they can try to break the pot. Onlookers throw water on the young men in order to distract them, adding to the well-meaning fun and revelry.

Breaking of the pot is followed by prize distribution. Devotees believe the broken pieces of earthen pot will keep away mice and negative powers from their homes.

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