Friday, 30 August 2013

The story of human pyramids and Govindas

It was initially a stronghold of men and it was classified as among the most dangerous sports. Falls were frequent and breaking bones, bleeding injuries, damaged skulls and fractures were as frequent as they could be. Yet, this sport never lost its popularity.
On the other hand, the advent of television, Internet and mass media gave a new meaning and thrust to the sport and today it is no longer confined to one city of the country but is popular among the masses all over.
This is one sport where everybody is an equal Servant and masters and today middle aged men, youth and even children join hands to celebrate the sport and the prize money now runs into lakhs and sometime even on crores.
Politicians, cricket players, sports persons, film actors and even academicians play the sport for the sheer thrill it gives and the adrenaline its sets flowing.
The sport virtually brings life to a standstill. No wonder it has gained national and international recognition and today, legislators are debating whether to officially accord sport tag to the event so that participants can take benefits that are given to persons participating in other sports such as cricket, hockey and football.
This is the spectacular Dahi Handi of Mumbai. Dahi Handi means forming a human chain or a pyramid and breaking a matka or pot and it is closely associated with the legend of Lord Krishna and his childhood prank of stealing butter and ghee from pots tied high up in kitchens of people.
The sport is generally played out on Krishnaastami or Gokulastami and it virtually brings life in Mumbai to a grinding halt. People of all ages, caste, community and even foreigners enthusiastically take part in the sport.
Make no mistake. It is a dangerous sport as the pots are tied and hung several hundred feet high above the ground or roads. People form human pyramids, clambering one upon the other and the smallest and less weight of them stands on top and breaks the pot to a roar from the crowd gathered.
Falls are frequent and injuries common to Govindas. People who are part of the human chain are called Govindas and this year 99 Govindas were injured across Mumbai.        
The Govindas clamber upon each other even as the crowds yell Ala Re Ala, Govinda Ala. Some in the crowds throw water on the Govindas so as to make climbing more difficult.
This year, actor Shahrukh Khan was seen at the dahi handi organised by MNS MLA Ram Kadam in Ghatkopar.
A cash reward of Rs 50 lakh had been announced for Govinda mandal which manages to break the pot by forming a nine-layer pyramid.
Ddahi handis with lucrative cash prizes are common in Thane and one of the most prominent is the one organised by Sangharsh Mandal of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Jitendra Awhad who has annopubnced a prize of Rs. 1.11 crores. Another NCP leader Sachin Ahir’s NGO Dahi Handi in Jambooree Maidan at Worli has a prize money close to Rs 1 crore. He is also the Maharashtar Minister of Housing.
Shiv Sena leader from Sion, Ajay Dadgujar, has announced a prize money of Rs1 crore for the Handi in the Bandra Kurla Complex.
The BJP this year distributed masks and T-shirts bearing the image of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, to 30,000 Govinda teams, apparently to project him as the party's prime ministerial candidate.
Women Govindas too are now taking to this sport and they too have their own teams. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Kishor Shinde organised an all-girls' dahi handi for the third consecutive year in Kothrud. There are a lot of mahila govindas in Navi Mumbai who have come to the forefront to participate in breaking of the pots. And this not only includes adults, but also small girls in the age group of seven to 12.
Organisers of the Suvarnayug Mandal decided to donate Rs1 lakh to the family of martyr Kundalik Mane, one of the five soldiers of the Indian Army, killed by the Pakistani troops in Poonch recently.
Though Dahi Handi is popular across Maharashtra, it is in Mumbai and Thane that the celebrations are considered to be special. At the latest count, there were more than 500 mandals from these two areas participating in the sport.
The Dahi Handis are attracting political attention. The Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar distributed insurance policies to around 350 mandals. As many as 30,000 members of dahi handi teams have been given insurance policies with a cover of Rs 1.5 lakh per person.
Two years ago, ten people from Mumbai had visited Spain while five Spaniards had come to city to watch the human pyramid festival and share the experience.
A similar festival in Spain is held annually in Castelle.  A castell (Catalan pronunciation) is a human tower built traditionally in festivals at many locations within Catalonia. At these festivals, several colles castelleres or teams often succeed in building and dismantling a tower's structure. On November 16, 2010, castells were declared by UNESCO to be amongst the Masterpieces of  the oral and intangible heritage of humanity..
The Maharashtra State Tourism Board has invited 250 Spanish castellers and 150 homegrown govindas from Thane for a dahi handi competition at the Gateway.
With politicians jumping bi time into Dahi Handis, legislators and mandals (associations) are demanding inclusion of Dahi Handi in the state sports policy. If so declared, it will help youth get jobs in government and banking sectors under the sports quota.
Incidentally, the Dahi Handi has been covered by the BBC in 2010. The origin of the sport,  Govinda, goes back to the eighteenth century in Girgaum where it was essentially a  religious ceremony. It was started by the community of Pathare Prabhus and slowly it spread to other communities and other areas. The sport has proved so popular that a business management school in Mumbai has prescribed Govinda as a lesson in their training course.

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