For many years Dahi Handi event had attracted controversy and legal clutch. Dahi handi, in which a human pyramid is formed to break an earthen pot filled with curd hanging mid-air, to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna, is now an adventure sport. Its many feet above the ground and then forming human pyramids to try and break these is associated with the people’s religious sentiments and hence the age cap should be relaxed as several security/precautionary measures have been put in place. On August 17, 2016, the Supreme Court had directed that the curd pots be hung not more than 20 feet above the ground and Govindas (participants) should be aged 18 years and above. The apex court had upheld a 2014 High Court order stipulating height restrictions and banning participation of youngsters below the age of 18 in the religious festival.
Now in 2017, the Supreme Court directed the Bombay High Court to decide on a government plea that challenged its order to put a cap on the age of participants as well as height of ‘dahi handis’ at Janamashtmi celebrations. The apex court directed that the Maharashtra plea should be considered afresh while taking note of material furnished by the state government and pass fresh orders.
Earlier, Maharashtra government approached the apex court, seeking clarification on an earlier order. The SC had in an interim order in 2014 stayed a Bombay high court order, which had held that devotees below 18 couldn’t take part in ‘dahi handi’ and had covered the height of the pyramid at 20 feet. Confusion, however, arose, as the SC did not set aside the high court order, giving an impression that its interim order was only for 2014 and the HC order was still valid. Mumbai has seen many deaths during Dahi Handi festival, youngsters bleed but there is no life cover for them. Still this should not come under game, as this is not state or national sport but just a ritual and celebrated by Hindus but it’s a secular festival having no boundaries of caste, creed and religion.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra issued a Government Resolution (GR). From now, Dahi handi will be a sport approved by the government and will be played as per the rules and regulations framed by a State-level association. It will not be limited to Janmashtami. The decision comes after the Bombay High Court imposed restrictions on the festival to curb noise pollution and avoid public nuisance. Going by the injuries and the deaths in the past, the court limited the height of the handi to 20 feet and banned minors from the event.
An association will be formed to frame rules and regulations. Anyone can participate in the sport now, except those below 12 years. Minors will have to provide letters of approval from their parents. Groups playing this sport would be trained and registered. The Dahi handi groups who form human pyramid on Janmashtami at various places in Mumbai had approached the government a month ago, seeking a solution. They even threatened to set up human pyramids in south Mumbai on August 15 in protest. The ambiguity over building pandals on road, loudspeaker and height remain as it is. The government has failed to resolve these issues. The festival has become one of the most glamorous festivals in Maharashtra, with prizes in lakhs are distributed in the presence of Bollywood stars.
Dahi Handi is a cultural fest based on the legend of the child-god Krishna stealing butter. A participant in this festival is called a govinda or govinda pathak. It is mostly popular in the state of Maharashtra and Mumbai. It is part of the main festival Gokulashtami, which is known as Krishna Janmashtami in the rest of the country, and celebrates the birth of Krishna. This event is celebrated on the next day of Krishna Janmashtami. The participant’s form a pyramid consisting usually below 9-tiers, and are given three attempts to break the earthen pot. Every year thousands of people and hundreds of govinda teams gather at Mumbai and Thane’s Dahi Handi events. As of 2011, the prize money for the events usually ranges between ₹1 lakh (US$1,500)–₹12 lakh (US$18,000) depending on the organizers and its sponsors. Each year, the prizes and scale of the celebrations increase due to the participation of political parties and commercialization.
Local and state political parties like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), are active during this event, with each offering their own prize money. Each party sponsors its own set of mandals. Their involvement has increased in the 2000s, thereby increasing competition and prize money. Thus, numerous teams compete against each other in successive events for the prizes throughout the city. Actors from Bollywood, Marathi actors and singers take part in this event. Some mandals even incorporated social messages like “female feticide” or “smoking is injurious to health” or about the environment into their act; the Shiv Sena and MNS focus on Marathi culture. Anyway, this is one event, where Maharashtra looks festive and Mumbai participants practice for months with all zeal. Such old cultural activities should be encouraged than restricted under the pretext of law and order. What is needed right now is most simple guidelines with strict implementations.
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