Mumbai aimed high for Dahi Handi

Mumbai: Preparations for Dahi Handi - a popular sport associated with Janmashtami in and around Mumbai - were on a high this year, with several places offering a whopping prize money of Rs.25 lakh (USD 53,000), a far cry from last year`s lacklustre celebrations on account of swine flu.

Special festivities for children were also being held on the occasion. With organisers - among them political leaders - trying to outdo each other, already crores of rupees were riding on the Govindas - young men who form a human pyramid to reach the `dahi handi` or pot of curd suspended high.

As many as three organisers in Thane announced a Rs.25 lakh prize money for the Govindas.

Sanskruti Yuva Pratishthan`s Vihang Dahi Kala Utsav, organised by Shiv Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik, announced the high cash prize for those who make a 10-layer pyramid.

"For 10 layers of pyramid, we have announced a prize money or Rs.25 lakh, for a nine-layer pyramid it will be Rs.11 lakh, and a 500 gm silver memento and a trophy will be given to those who form an eight-layer pyramid," Sarnaik said.

"There are similar prizes for other groups too," he said.

Also making similar announcements were Nationalist Congress Party`s (NCP) Jitendra Awhad and Congress leader Ravi Phatak.

While Awhad had announced a prize money of Rs.25 lakh for a 10-layer pyramid, Rs.15 lakh will be awarded for a nine-layer pyramid and so on.

Janmashtami fell on Thursday. Dahi Handi generally takes place on the second day of Janmashtami. An earthen pot containing a mixture of milk, dry fruits, ghee is hung around 20-30 feet high in the air with the help of a rope.

Enthusiastic young men form a human pyramid by standing on top of one another, trying to break the pot. Onlookers throw water on the young men to prevent them from doing so.

Breaking of the pot is followed by prize distribution. Devotees believe the broken pieces of earthen pot keep away mice and negative influences from their home.

Beating all the organisers in terms of money is Ram Kadam, a legislator of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) who has announced a whopping Rs.31 lakh for Govinda groups who make a nine-layer pyramid.

Also geared up for Dahi Handi on Janmashtami was legislator Krishna Hegde from suburban Vile Parle.

"When all Dahi Handi groups are gearing up for the festival that is tagged by big prize money, our programme will be for children and will consist of a fancy dress competition. There will be prizes for the children best dressed as Lord Krishna," Hegde said.

"Apart from the `best Lord Shree Krishna` competition, we are also organising free train rides, games and DJ music for all the little Bal Krishnas to enjoy," Hegde said.

Parents of the area appreciated the move saying they are glad children were being made a part of the celebrations. "This is a great way to involve our young ones and celebrate Dahi Handi without the usual political drama," said Samruddhi Wadekar, a parent.

Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam has announced a prize money of Rs.11 lakh this year. He has also announced special prizes for women groups.

Taking a different stand on the celebrations, a senior MNS leader Bala Nandgaonkar has criticised Dahi Handi organisers saying they place the pot so high that it is impossible to break it.

Nandgaonkar lamented the way some Govindas lost their lives or were injured while making 10- or 11-layer pyramids. He also called for government intervention to restrict the height of pyramids to eight layers.