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Govinda or Dahi Handi is a sport organized on Krishna Janmashtami to celebrate the birth of Krishna. It is very popular in Mumbai and surrounding area of Thane.
Govinda players gather together under Dahi Handi to making a human pyramid to catch and then break an earthen pot (a matki or handi) hung high in the air with the help of a rope. The players are known as Govindas or BalGopals. The sport is based on the legends about Krishna stealing makhan (butter) or dahi (curd) from handis.
Govinda was started somewhere in the eighteenth century in Girgaum in Mumbai. Originally the sport was a religious ceremony to celebrate the birth of the Hindu god Krishna. A community called Pathare Prabhu staying in the village called Girgaum in south Mumbai (then called Bombay) used to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna by performing Govinda. This community of Pathare Prabhu was affluent and had many servants to work on their farms. These workers were mainly from Kunbi community from Bankot in Konkan region of Maharashtra state in India. On Krishna birthday, earthen pot filled with Dahi curds and butter and other eatables preferably bananas would be hung at a suitable height. Servants of the Pathare Prabhu families would collect and make a human pyramid under the pot and then a little boy most probably the youngest child from that family would climb over them, reach the pot and then break it. That was the sport to be played on that day to celebrate the birth of the lord.
Usually, the land held by this community of Pathare Prabhus was very large, called Wadi. People participating in the occasion were going in a procession in and around the Wadi they owned and ultimately come to the main entrance of their mansions. Very often more than one family would join in the celebration and that used to give more servants for the performance of Govinda. The earthen pot called Handi held at a height in that place. All the female members of the family as well as those of the servants would be collecting at the entrance to receive the procession, also called, Govinda. Usually these processions accompanied with a chariot, pulled by either horses or bullocks and on the chariot were scenes from the life of Lord Krishna and with a band of lezim players and drummers. Old people say that, these processions were very magnificent. As the procession reaches the entrance of the mansion, all the members of the procession would collect under the Handi and form the circles to make the final pyramid. Lord Krishna, little child from the owners house sitting in the chariot as lord Krishna then climbed the pyramid and the pot was broken. While the little boy of the Govinda is trying to climb up to the Handi and then breaking it, crowd around would throw quantity of water on the Govinda to disturb them and to see that they cannot do it easily. This was the work of mainly women surrounding the Govinda. This was to remember that when lord Krishna used to reach the Handis, gopicas (maidens) would do such a thing to save their curds and milk from the hands of little lord Krishna. This is an episode from the life of lord Krishna. In that, it depicts that lord Krishna with his friends (Govindas) roamed around the city of Mathura, find the earthen pots filled with curds and milk, and steal it. Gopicas (milk maidens) used to hide these pots at a height so that little lord cannot reach it. Lord was very smart and he developed the idea of making a pyramid of his friends and then climbing it and get to the curd.
Interesting enough, all male members of the Pathare Prabhu community would mix with servants on equitable basis while making the pyramid. At the pyramid, every body was equal. No body was boss and no body was servant. They all were only worshipers of the lord Krishna. Even servant's sons would climb on the shoulders of the owners’ sons to reach the upper layer. This is how all the people involved experienced a sense of equality. This shows that many qualities are required to make the pyramid successful. They are, sense of responsibility, collective contribution, sense of equality and mastermind. At personal level, other qualities were required. They are confidence, daring, patience, capacity to sustain pain and other injuries, respect for other fellow members. Looking to these aspects of Govinda, one business management school in Mumbai has accepted Govinda as a lesson in their training course.
This continued until nineteen fifties in this style in the Girgaum village. By that time, the village had become a full-grown city of Mumbai and called Mumbai-2. Lands were all sold and gone. Now the big land holding were reduced to narrow link roads but still they were called, Wadis. Phanas Wadi, Navi Wadi, Khhotachi Wadi, Zawbachi Wadi were known to be holding regularly these Govindas in Girguam. Now, the format of the Govinda procession had also changed. Now, all occupants in these Wadis, whether servants or just tenants, anybody who would enjoy the occasion and the sport, would join. By now, the servants had taken this interesting sport to their native place Bankot in Konkan. Many servants and their progeny had left Girgaum and settled in other parts of this city of Mumbai. Wherever they went carried the sport and this is how the sport spread in other parts of the city and in vicinity like Thane.
Chariots carrying shows from the life of Lord Krishna were abandoned and only Govinda teams remained. They started moving in trucks and some boys moved on their motor bikes and scooters along with the trucks. They carried with them water and other requisites. By this time Pathare Prabhu, community was gone into oblivion.
Govinda reached new heights when media discovered the advertising potential of the sport. After that, professional politicians followed the suit. At present Govinda has become a sport to reckon with.
The sport has four parameters: height of the Handi, width of the place under the Handi, number of people to perform the Govinda, and the number of layers to perform the Handi break. Centring exactly under the Handi was a matter of skill. Very often, centring was not proper and finally the boy reaching the height would be a little away from the Handi and that is failure of Govinda. When many new practitioners experienced this, they introduced a remedy to this by not breaking the Handi but only saluting it. This is how two types of Govindas came into existence. Govinda with Handi and Govinda with Salaam (salute) without Handi. Originally, Govinda had layers gradually receding in diameter and forming a neatly shaped pyramid like structure. This required a large number of members to make it. These Govindas were solid that means each layer is filled with boys and that made the Govinda very strong. However, such pyramids required a very large number of boys. In later period, so many boys were not available and so hollow pyramids came to be common. Only outer ring formed and the boys would climb on them to reach the upper layer. The conventional Govinda had only top most boy alone standing and he would break the pot. When Spanish sportsmen came to see our Govinda they introduced ladder arrangement, which was their practice in Spain. In Spain, they have a sport similar to our sport of Govinda. Now boys of this Govinda have picked up that ladder arrangement to increase the height of Govinda to reach Handi at higher heights. All these arrangements made it possible to make a Govinda with less number of boys.
Shows only the ladder arrangement of three girls at the top of the pyramid, this Govinda is played by all Girls.
Many engineering innovations are possible to make this sport more interesting and visually impressive, said one structural engineer from Mumbai. He added that the ladder pattern if made using triplets (three persons), instead of single person so, that will increase the stability of the pyramid. With this innovation Govinda could reach enormous heights. Three layers of such triples will add another 15 feet to Govinda easily.
Health of members
Experts opinion, no special exercise is necessary to these boys. Experienced athletes recommended that sports such as Kho-kho, Atyapatya, Kabaddi (Hutu too), all local games, are most suitable to bring agility required in this sport. Ideal member for this sport should be strong, muscular and tall. Very heavy bodied members may be suitable at the lowest level on the ground. Average height of members recommended in here is 5 ft. 6 in. at ground level and for upper layers height must be above this. Govinda can reach bigger heights, preferring taller boys. Many boys indulge in drinking liquor. This practice is in some places encouraged by the organizers.
Govindas forming human tower to break the dahi handi in Thane
Govinda's recognition as a sport has caused some people to pursue it tenaciously. The financial side of this activity shows, three months before the advent of the birthday of the Lord Krishna, they have to start practicing for Govinda. Daily for at least three hours they practice. During practice, they need a substantial diet fortified with carbohydrates and proteins. Some experts suggest that during practice each one member of the Govinda consumes about 3000 or more of calories of energy. At present, no substantial diet made available for these people and as a result, quite often some of them withdraw from the sport eventually. Their body cannot sustain the exertion due to their improper diet. To develop a sport out of this activity, supplementary diet for the loss of calories during the practice is required; and for that those Govinda organizers will have to give the members some special food during each practice. A dietician has suggested that each on of these Govinda members must get a food supplement consisting of three chapattis, an omelette of three eggs and a glass of sweetened milk or fruit juice. At present prices in the city of Mumbai, the cost works out to be about 40 rupees per serving. For a medium sized group of Govinda team we need at least 50 boys. That works out to a cost of 2,000/- rupees per day for the food of the team during practice. With this as standard statistics we find that during three months of practice a Govinda team shall have to spent at least 1,80,000/- rupees.
During the festival day, these teams have to travel distances to reach these Govinda Handis in different localities. This requires transport. The cost of transport comes to about 5000/- rupees for that day. In all, having not considered any other cost, such as, salaries or remuneration of the members, however, in most of the cases they work voluntarily and so all that we find each Govinda team of a medium size has to incur the cost of at least 1,85,000/- rupees for the preparation as on year 2009. For large sized Govindas this cost will be almost double this.
Presently, it is found that no Govinda organizer spends this much money on these player today and that is why if this sport is brought for competition with other Govindas from abroad such as Spain, they shall be defeated. The boys being malnourished will not be able to stand the rigour required for such competitions. It is observed that on an average a Govinda team cannot attend more than three Handis in that day successfully. Formation of a good-sized Govinda (pyramid) requires at least fifteen minutes and preparation may require about at least another fifteen minutes. Excess time in loitering is about one hour. The only earning side is the prizes given on these Govinda Handis. While other options of earning are completely neglected. The other options are TV coverage, news coverage.
Sponsors of Govindas are collecting money by contribution from respected and interested parties such as business companies, shops, and politicians. These people contribute to the fund and the amount is generated. It has been seen that advertisements in and around the place of Handi are those of these contributors. At present TV channels and news coverage does not pay anything to the organizers of Govinda to cover the event.
To calculate arbitrarily what should be the minimum prize money for a Govinda we have to consider how many Handis a team can attend successfully? An investigation has shown that not more than three are possible. This amounts to about one and a half hour per actual operation of formation of Govinda (pyramid). Rest of the time goes in travel to reach the Handi. Since the cost of preparation of the team for Govinda of three months and travel is about as we have shown earlier comes to 1,85,000/- rupees and this does not include the remuneration for the team members minimum cost per Handi must be not less than 65,000/- rupees. If remuneration is to be added the cost will be more; that comes to 1,30,000/- rupees or more. Any Handi prized around this amount or more is a feasible Handi and anything less means that Handi is not for medium sized Govindas. A medium sized Govinda team can reach height of 40 feet if other requisites are properly satisfied. This explanation gives general idea of the feasibility of Govinda.
It shows that most of the organizers of these Govindas finally cheat the members of the team by not paying them anything at all. The unscrupulous people, who are mostly from some or the other political party, fool these members. Not even good nourishment provided during the practice. It is observed that, mostly the members of the Govinda join the sport not for making any money but just for the valour. They belong to economically backward class and mostly not well educated. Political leaders who hold control on these teams know these weak points of these poor boys and they take full advantage of it.
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