Dahi Handi: The Feast of Janmashtami

India is a country of great contrasts and popular devotions. The Dahi Handi festival is celebrated during Janmashtami in honor of Krishna. The word Dahi means curd, and Handi is the pot. The words refer to the pot of cottage cheese, which is claimed as a prize in this special ceremony.

The act is from childhood antics of Krishna, who had a special affinity for milk and butter. According to legend, Krishna spent his childhood in the countryside of Vrindavan. He was a mischievous child, who was fond of butter and curds. Yogurt was hanged in the rafters of houses to keep them out of reach of children and animals. Krishna, along with his friends formed human pyramids to steal milk and butter from the houses of the village.

The Dahi Handi now is something of a national sport and is the most popular game. The ceremony consists of breaking a pot full of milk, cottage cheese, butter, honey, and fruits. Besides the Handi, some money is placed as a reward.

Suspended on a rope at a height of about 12 meters, a group of young men and children form a human pyramid, climbing over each other's shoulders. The goal is to form a human pyramid high enough to go break a pot containing milk, yogurt, butter, fruits, and water, hung in the air. The young athlete is instructed to reach the top of the pyramid, who must break the pot with the help of a stick or any blunt object and make sure that the liquid spills on the entire team in order to consecrate the union in the enterprise.

Several of these are established in various parts of the city, and youth groups, called Govinda, make trips in trucks, trying to break as many Handi as possible during the day.

Many young and old, men and women fast since morning, who remain awake past midnight, the time when they gather to recite devotional songs addressed to Krishna.