Come September 2 and Mumbai will be busy celebrating Janmashtami, followed by the celebration of Dahi Handi the day after. While it has religious connotations tied to it, like many good festivals in India, Dahi Handi is also celebrated with a lot of pomp and drama- loud DJs, crazy rain dance and what always steals the limelight, a Dahi Handi contest.
If you have ever witnessed Janmashtami in Mumbai, you would know that the streets are owned by govindas on the day of DahiHandi. According to Hindu mythology, Lord 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 in Vrindavan, a village in Uttar Pradesh. To keep up with that tradition on this day, youngsters, called govindas, attempt to break the dahi handi by forming human pyramids.
And that’s what you see the day after Janmashtami. The streets full of these modern govindas – young men in half-pants and ganjis and bandanas -representing various teams which compete against each other for a whopping cash prize which can be anything between RsTwo to Five lakh. Remember how Shammi Kapoor was dancing on the chants of ‘Govinda aala re aala zara matki sambhaal brijbaala‘ while ladies from their balcony were pouring water in the movie Bluffmaster, 1963? That’s really fiction imitating fact.
Cut to 2018, the songs have been replaced by DJs playing mashup hits and since people are too busy to encourage the climbers by pouring water on them, artificial rain machines are arranged.
This is no small neighbourhood celebration. Over 3000 mandals organise the functions which are attended by Bollywood celebrities from Shah Rukh Khan to Ranbir Singh, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan and others. The Maharashtra government also sends out regulations for the height of the pot and age limit, and provides, helmets, safety nets and chest guards considering the number of mishaps and often deaths that are known to take place.
In Mumbai, clay pots filled with curd, butter, money and turmeric are hung high and a group of professionals make human pyramids and break the pot with a coconut and, if they “courageous” enough, with their foreheads. Just like during Ganpati celebrations, there is a huge competition to judge who arranges the best dahi handi in the city. In 2017, 20ft was the limit set by the SC for govinda pyramids, with 4 tiers at the most and govindas have to be 18 years old to participate.
While the blaring Hindi film music might have nothing to do with religious celebrations, there is a joie de vivre, bonhomie and jubilant energy which truly makes this a community festival worth witnessing.