Mumbai is famous as being one of the most culturally vibrant cities of not only the state of Maharashtra, but of all the cities of India. All festivals celebrated in this city receive equal zeal and enthusiasm. As a typical Indian b-wood audience, we’ve all heard the “Ala re ala, Govinda ala” song, and that too more than once, definitely. This song is usually in sync with the scene showing the ritual of Dahi Handi.
However, is this one typical Bollywood scene enough to know all that there is to know about the festival of Dahi Handi or is there more to it?
As most Hindus already know, Janmashtmi is not a recent occurrence, but has a history of many years. Many folklores have been related to the birth of Lord Krishna. One folklore states that Krishna was born to kill Kansa, the demon king of Mathura. He is believed to be a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, and the purpose of His existence was to establish a kingdom of peace and prosperity, and to spread the message of brotherhood and humanity.
Lord Krishna is widely worshipped, both in his childhood form as Govinda, and in his youth as Lord Krishna. The celebration of His birth usually lasts for two days. On the first day, dance performances are conducted, showing different phases of Krishna’s life. The Lord is commemorated at the end of the day, precisely at midnight, through aartis and bhajans. The second day is entirely devoted to the celebration of the ritual of Dahi Handi.
To an outsider, or a non-Hindu, this ritual might seem more like an activity, or a dangerous adventure of some sort. But this ritual holds a lot of religious significance.
The festival of Dahi Handi borrows inspiration from the experiences of Govinda, the childhood form of Lord Krishna. Govinda was notorious for stealing butter from the earthen pots left hanging in the houses of Govardhan (Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh) with the help of his friends, by forming human pyramids. It is a famous Bal Krishna Leela narrated in Puranas.
Today, most cities in Maharashtra celebrate dahi handi as a unique festival. People, who participate in the breaking of the dahi handi, or the bucket of curd or butter, are called Govindas. They form human pyramids to reach the curd/butter pots hung at a height between 20-30 feet. Sometimes, a series of pots are piled up using ropes, and each pot differs in content with the other, contents varying from curd, butter, butter milk etc. Silver coins are also tied to the pots, and are given to the winners, on reaching the pots successfully.
An added challenge is that water is sprayed on the people continuously while they try to reach the pot, in an effort to distract them. In recent years, huge monetary rewards have also come to be associated with the ritual. The higher the handi, the more rewards it holds.
This ritual of Dahi Handi was started to portray the playful and mischievous nature of Lord Krishna, and at the same time, carries a spiritual philosophy with it.
Some say that the pot is the ego that dangles in the grasp of the Samsara, while the curd or butter that forms the content is the body (or the being). The Lord breaks the pot to release the content from the binding Samsara, hence implying that it is a spiritual attempt to release ego from one’s mind.
However, even though this festival holds a lot of religious and spiritual importance, one cannot ignore the risks involved in the performance of this act.