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Dahi Handi should be treated as cultural festival

The 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. Now people below 18 years of age may not be able to participate in forming human pyramids during ‘dahi handi’ ritual on Janmasthami. Mumbai has seen many deaths during Dahi Handi festival, youngsters bleed but there is no life cover for them.

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. 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 to be written 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. Dahi Handi should not be accorded the status of adventure sports as it is not a state or national sport but just a ritual and celebrated by Hindus. It’s a secular festival having no boundaries of caste, creed and religion.

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 roads, loudspeaker and height remain as it is. The government has failed to resolve these issues. Dahi Handi has become one of the most glamorous festivals in Maharashtra, with prizes in lakhs  istributed in the presence of Bollywood stars.

Dahi Handi is celebrated every August/September, this event is based on the legend of the child-god Krishna stealing butter. Participants in this festival are known as Govindas or Govinda Pathak. It is mostly popular in the state of Maharashtra and Mumbai. It is a part of the main festival Gokulashtami, which is known as Krishna Janmashtami in the rest of the country, and celebrates the birth of Krishna. Dahi Handi is celebrated on the next day of Krishna Janmashtami. The participants 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 team to gather at Mumbai and Thane’s Dahi Handi events. As of 2011, the prize money for the events usually ranges between Rs.1 lakh– Rs.12 lakh 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 foeticide or about the environment into their act; the Shiv Sena and MNS focus on Marathi culture. Anyway, this is one event which is celebrated with festive fervour in Maharashtra and Mumbai participants practice for months with all zeal. Such old cultural activities should be encouraged instead of being restricted under the pretext of law and order. It is necessary to frame simple guidelines with strict implementation.

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Dr. Vaidehi Taman
Dr. Vaidehi is an Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and an Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. Since 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond the news (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which she caters for her sister-concern Kaizen-India Infosec Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

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