This was my first Krishna Janmashtami after a long, long time and it was intriguing to be reminded of how important this day is in the Hindu calender, and how uniquely it is celebrated in Mumbai. Lord Krishna is one of the main gods in Hinduism, among several others. The word Janmashtami means “birthday”. This year, Krishna’s birthday was celebrated on August 10th.
In the state of Maharastra, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with great gusto and fervor. Krishna was believed to have stolen butter thereby harassing his mother, Yashoda, on several occasions. He would also steal buttermilk from his mother’s kitchen as a little child. In Mumbai, they commemorate this characteristic of Krishna’s life by engaging in the procurement of dahi handi (A clay pot filled with buttermilk). This clay pot is strategically positioned at a height, which is convenient enough to reach, but also high enough that one needs to build a human pyramid to break the pot.
This was the dahi handi that was hanging in front of my building this afternoon. It is suspended by rope that is tied on either side of the pot and requires people to create a human pyramid and crack the pot open. These handis are set up all over Mumbai:
The person right at the top of the pyramid cracks open the handi, preferably with a dry coconut (a symbol of purity) and out flows the buttermilk, showering the group with blessings. The modern version of dahi handi not only includes the usual religious paraphernalia, such as flowers and buttermilk, but hundreds of thousands of rupees as well. Yes, people from big business communities contribute lakhs of rupees and each handi is a treasure on its own. It’s such a treasure that young boys from all over the city and beyond, create teams and come in huge trucks and try to go for the most prized handis in the city.
Here is an image of a boy breaking the handi:
Here is a mass human pyramid in the famous business area of Dadar (Mumbai):
The city is still in revelry. I tried to stay off the streets as much as possible. In the evening, I was invited to a Krishna bhakt’s (devotee) house where they were performing the abhishekam (the pouring of blessed liquids – such as milk, water, honey – on the deity with chanting) of Krishna and Radha (Krishna’s consort). The abhishekam was performed in my friend’s house which was adorned with flowers and several statues of Krishna and filled with about a 100 people, all standing in line to perform the abhishekam. There was a certain vibe in the air that was constantly fueled by the zealous singing and chanting of Krishna’s name. I tried to take a picture of the priest standing near the idols at my friend’s house:
It was lovely observing one of the many religious traditions in Mumbai and participating in it in such an active way. I am sure I will be around to see many more of these in the years to come…