As we enter the temple grounds,off a small bylane in Khar, 50 young girls have huddled up to pray to a coconut. Suddenly, as one of them picks it up and proceeds to break it open on the ground, the others erupt into celebratory cheers.
Then, without prior announcement, 10 of them group together, arms intertwined around each other’s waists, and make a tightly bound circle. They mount two girls over their shoulders, who hoist two more on top. And before we know it, a five-storeyed human pyramid stands before us, steady and unwavering.
The girls from Gopika Govinda Mahila Pathak make a pyramid during a training session. PHOTOS: Satish Bate/HT
These are the girls of Ma Jijau Govinda Pathak (MJGP) — a group which will participate in the traditional Dahi Handi celebrations for Janmashtami (September 5).
It’s a day on which, thousands of men pack themselves inside trucks and go from one challenging handi to the other. Over the last few years, a few women’s groups across the city have slowly started making a mark for themselves. “It’s been three years since we first participated and, till date, none of our pyramids have crashed,” says Sunita Nadar, secretary, MJGP. “All these girls are self-trained and have managed the tournaments by themselves, without a guide or a coach,” she asserts.
While it presently boasts of nearly 250 women (including the peripheral support members and those who constitute the main pyramid), MJGP had a challenging beginning. Hailing from traditional families, the women were not allowed to enter Dahi Handi tournaments. “A lot of these girls were under pressure to get married and were not allowed to participate because it was considered a ‘boy’s sport’,” says Nadar.
Another group, Gopika Govinda Mahila Pathak (GGMP), has managed to create a strong presence in Bandra West. “For the first two years, I went door to door in Bandra trying to convince parents or husbands to let their daughters and wives participate. The sport has been liberating for me, personally. I wanted others to experience it,” says Shobha Pawal, chairperson, GGMP.
“Today, after four years, people appreciate our performance. Parents willingly come and enroll their daughters for Dahi Handi tournaments. It is a huge step forward,” she adds.
Their perseverance has been quite the game changer. For instance, this year, a male govinda group from Khar, Shivraj Govinda Pathak, has finally promised training support to these women’s groups.
"Their coach approached us. Now we do warm-up exercises before making the pyramids, we understand the nuances and the essential techniques to form a strong pyramid. For instance, now the girls know how to lock the curve of their foot with the shoulder blades of the girl below them before elevation. The fear of falling down diminishes significantly," says Nadar.
With training, the women are now aware of the basic safety measures, too. A first aid box is always kept at hand, even during practice. The training sessions are often held on grounds where the earth is soft and covered with grass instead of concrete. "We have been fortunate enough to not have a serious injury or a fall so far. But now, we are better equipped on the safety front," says Pawal.
Warm-up exercises are in integral part of their training.
With the Maharashtra government having declared Dahi Handi as an adventure sport (on August 12), the news has come in the form of an opportunity for the women to receive state sponsored training for the sport. Pawal says, "Earlier, after Janmashtami, we dearly missed the chance to leave our household chores and daily routines to come train for Dahi Handi. Now, we have the opportunity to continue doing what we enjoy all year round. We are very excited."