This festival celebrates the birthday of India’s favorite butter thief – Krishna.
Dahi Handi (dahi means curd and handy means clay pot) is celebrated in August or September. While Janmashtami or Srikrishna Jayanti (birthday of Krishna) is celebrated all over the country, Dahi Handi is a Maharashtrian festival. It is particularly popular in Mumbai.
How is Dahi Handi celebrated?
A clay pot filled with curd is left hanging from a rope at a convenient height. Youngsters will form a human pyramid to reach the pot. The one at the top will smash the pot with his hands. This is how child Krishna used to steal butter from his home and the homes in his neighborhood. Participants in this festival are called Govindas. Govinda is another name of Krishna.
The story behind this festival
Little Krishna was extremely fond of curd and butter. His foster father Nandagopa was the chief of cowherds. His foster mother Yashoda loved him so much that she spoilt him silly. Yashoda would give him as much butter as he wanted, but Krishna was into mischief. He loved to steal butter from neighboring homes and so he and his friends would make human pyramids and break curd pots hung from ceilings. He would distribute it among his friends.
Dahi Handi is a one day festival but Govindas will start the preparation weeks in advance. Groups participating in this event are called mandals. There are several mandals in all neighborhoods. There are also plenty of pots to break. On this day, Govindas will go around the locality trying to break as many pots as possible.
It takes a great deal of coordination and focus to form a human pyramid. The lowest layer will have the most number of Govindas. They have to be sturdy. The topmost layer will typically consist of a single child.
The Govindas will have to make several attempts before they can break the pot. It is not uncommon for some pyramids to have 6, 7 or even 8 layers. When players in the top layers fall, those standing beneath them will typically cushion them against injuries. What’s more, the Govindas will be surrounded by numerous spectators. As a result, chances of them falling and hitting the ground are rather slim. Injuries still happen.
Some spectators will throw water on the Govindas to prevent them from ‘stealing’. People will also chant Ala re ala, Govinda ala (Govinda has come). Noise levels during this celebration can be pretty high as there is a great deal of music and dancing.
The Govindas can make three attempts to break the pot. If they fail, Govindas of another mandal will come forward. Every year, the Dahi Handi celebrations in Mumbai and Thane see the participation of hundreds of thousands of Govindas. Winners will be given a cash prize. The event is getting commercialized because now political parties are involved in its organization. This has increased competition and prize money. Dahi Handi celebrations also see the active participation of Bollywood actors and singers.
In 2012, a Dahi Handi mandal from Mumbai made it to the Guinness Book of World Records by forming a 9-tier human pyramid reaching a height of 13.35m. Dahi Handi is not an official sport. It is a street celebration.
Traffic jams are common in all parts of Mumbai and Thane on this day. Noise pollution is another issue. If you happen to be in Mumbai on this day, you will not miss this spectacle because it is celebrated on every street. You only have to step outside your building or look out of the window.