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Happy Dahi Handi, Mumbaikars

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he birthday of Lord Krishna, better known as Janmashtami is celebrated with great gusto across the country. Every year, people gather to recite the tale of Krishna – the eighth avatar of Vishnu, sing songs in his praise and celebrate Dahi Handi. Mumbai is in celebration mode and all geared up for Dahi Handi event.

Though, refusing to rethink a ban on taller “Dahi Handi” human pyramids – during the Janmashtami festival in Maharashtra – the Supreme Court said “to increase the height is very scary”. A Mumbai-based group had asked the court to reconsider its own order and raise the 20-feet cap, voicing a demand that is backed by almost every political party in Maharashtra. The petitioner, seeking an urgent hearing a day before Janmashtami celebrations, has argued against the height restriction saying the sport is famous and earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records because of how tall each human pyramid can get. The Maharashtra government had also told the court that “height is the charm of the game and courts can consider increasing the height to 25 feet. In the annual Dahi Handi ritual, human pyramids compete to reach for Dahi Handis or pots filled with curd that are strung up high on poles. Participants call themselves “Govindas” – another name for Lord Krishna – and wear colourful costumes.

Last week, the court banned those below 18 from participating in the pyramids and limited the height to 20 feet only. It confirmed an order by the Bombay High Court two years ago, which was challenged by the Maharashtra government. Mumbai has seen many deaths during Dahi Handi festival, youngsters bleed but there is no life cover for them. Still, this should not be considered as game, as this is not state or national level sports but a ritual and celebrated by Hindus. However, it’s a secular festival having no boundaries of caste, creed or religion.

Dahi Handi is now an adventure sports. The Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra issued a Government Resolution (GR). From now, Dahi Handi will be sports 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 put restrictions on the festival to curb noise pollution and avoid public nuisance.

An association will be formed to frame rules and regulations. Anyone can participate in the sports now, except those below 12 years. Minors will have to provide letters of approval from their parents. Groups playing Pyramid games 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, based on the legend of the child-god Krishna stealing butter. It is mostly popular in the state of Maharashtra and Mumbai. The festival is also known as Gokulashtami in rest part of India. 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 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. Anyways, 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 the most are simple guidelines with strict implementations.

Dear Readers, we wish you a Happy Janmashtami.

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