Just after the heavy rains subside, the month of Shravan arrives and with it a whole lot of celebrations and festivals. The earth is contented with her monsoon drink and has put on fresh green garment and now it is getting embroidered with numerous multi-hued flowers – yellow, blue, purple and pink.
Over 5000 years ago, in this month, on the eighth day of Hindu lunar calendar, in the middle of a rainy, stormy night, Lord Vishnu took birth as Krishna, to kill the evil tyrant Kamsa. His birthday is celebrated as Gokulashtami or Krishna Janmashtami in various parts of India in different ways. Some stay up the night singing His praises, some cut cucumbers to symbolize His birth; others have floral decorations of cribs with His tiny figurine. All over India, Krishna temples are decorated and the Bhajan (devotional songs) singing and dancing goes on through the night with great zeal.
Little Krishna grew up in Gokul among the Gopal (cowherds), spending his days looking after the cows. He always wore a peacock feather on his head. His favorite food was curds and butter which was available in plenty in Gokul. Lord Krishna, as a kid, used to create a human pyramid with his friends, to reach the curd and butter pots hung from the ceiling. The day after the Janmashtami is celebrated as an enactment of these much loved ancient incidences complete with a simple Gopal Kala – a savory dish made with rice, curds, coconut, cucumber and green chilies tempered with clarified butter.
“Govinda Govinda …Govinda has come.” (Govinda is another name for Lord Krishna and the participants are called Govinda for this one day) The crowds cheer excitedly and womenfolk are ready with buckets of colored water to throw on the Govindas. It is a sport where a clay pot with curd and butter in it is the trophy and the idea is to break the clay pot. The atmosphere is overflowing with joyfulness and spirit of camaraderie.
The Dahi Handi (clay pot with curds and butter) is hung high between 20 to 50 feet high. In the midst of vigorous music and dance, the Govindas form a large circle holding each other by the shoulder, looking inwards. Then the next circle is formed with men climbing and standing on top of their shoulders. All the while crowds cheer and women throw water on them. Thus a human pyramid is formed. Sometimes as many as 9 layers of human circles are made. The tension grows as the youngest member climbs to the top of the pyramid and breaks the Dahi Handi. That is the climax. Then slowly and carefully the pyramid is dismantled. All Govindas are given Lord Krishna’s favorite food- Rice, curds, and butter.
It is a dangerous sport. Despite practicing well before the day, there are a lot of accidents, injuries and even deaths that occur. However, it has not deterred the Govindas. The cash prizes vary from a few hundred to over 10 million Rupees, depending on how high and famous the Dahi Handi is. Plus, it is an issue of prestige.
The legal system tried to interfere by keeping a minimum age of 14 years to participate and the tried fixing the height of the Handi at 20 feet, with little or no avail. It is a male-dominated festival. In Pune, women tried breaking that rule and started their ‘all women’ Dahi Handi – the only one of its kind.
Dahi Handi is celebrated this way mainly in three states Maharashtra, Gujarat (called Makhan Handi) and UP. However, Mumbai has the best of Dahi Handis and offers a fascinating experience not to be missed.
Featured Photo by $hrink