Jogeshwari’s Jai Jawan govinda group made the first nine-tier human pyramid in this year’s dahi handi competition held on Thursday, winning Rs 15 lakh at Thane’s Sangharsh mandal. Elsewhere, prizes as high as Rs 55 lakh to Rs 65 lakh were on offer. On the streets, cries of ‘Govinda aala re aala’ reverberated among hundreds of govinda groups travelling in trucks and tempos to break dahi handis to mark Lord Krishna’s birthday. Sporting political parties’ logos on their T-shirts, the groups went from handi to handi, from Girgaum to Thane, to collect the spoils.
“The sheer joy of breaking a handi hanging high is irresistible,” said Jitu Kadam, a member of the Mazgaon Tadwadi Ganeshotsav Mandal. But no one managed to make the elusive 10-tier pyramid for the big daddy of all prizes — Rs 25 lakh. Govindas said it was impossible. But Pratap Sarnaik, Shiv Sena legislator from Thane who is offering the reward, said: “When I offered Rs 11 lakh for nine tiers in 2008, people called me unreasonable, but the feat was accomplished. So, you can never discount these things.”
Two years ago, Jai Jawan and Mazgaon Tadwadi mandals were the first to create the record of nine tiers at Sarnaik’s Sanskruti mandal. However, the Rs 11 lakh prize money that year went to Tadwadi, which completed the feat a few minutes before Jai Jawan. This year, however, they could not match their record and gave up after eight tiers. In the large open grounds where govindas competed, DJ music and live bands added to the carnival atmosphere.
Besides the phenomenal prize money, organisers such as Sankalp at Worli and Sangharsh and Sanskruti at Thane were in the limelight by the presence of film stars such as Rajesh Khanna, Jackie Shroff and Isha Koppikar. For outsiders, the city took on a whole new hue.
“I had heard of Mumbai’s celebration but never imagined the scale of it,” said Rachit Mehra, a professional from Delhi who spent hours at handi sites across the city. “We celebrate in a traditional way; gifts are offered merely as encouragement,” said Sachin Ahir, a state minister who heads the Sankalp Pratisthan. Old timers rued the commercialisation of the festival.
“The innocence is lost; everything is being commercialised,” said Prakash Bal, political observer. However, mandals disagreed, saying the money is utilised for social causes. But all these observations did not matter to Sneha (6), who was at the pinnacle of Tadwadi’s eight-tier pyramid. “It felt great. My parents will be so proud,” she said.