I had in the past covered Gokulastami festival several times and have in stock many images of it. So I had no plan to visit the festival this time. Just then the Swine flu scare happened in Mumbai. Few deaths were reported. Television channels not to be left behind on TRP rating had it all hyped up. It was a familiar sight in the streets of Mumbai people wearing face mask ostensibly to protect from the contagious virus. Then we had warning from the jittery Government to tone down the festival as they felt that a large gathering, which normally this festival draw, would further spread the virus. The schools, college and Multi-plexs were closed for a week
I wanted to see for myself how the festival would turn out to be with Swine flu virus having scared the people to death. I chose to visit Dadar the hub of Dahi Handi ceremony. The turnout of Govindas was massive like any other previous festivals. The festival fervor and spirit was very much in evident among the Govindas. The Govindas revellers went around breaking Dahi Handi hung up at street corners and then the usual breaking in to jig once they successfully formed the human pyramid ( main attraction of the festival) in breaking the dahi handi. Apart from the usual merriment and joy displayed at the festival, one thing that was missing that was the large crowd. Normally we have huge turnout of people to watch the Dahi handi ceremony. The people response was muted. Less people this time were seen watching the spectacular human pyramid. For me as a photographer it was an advantage with less crowd as there were no shoving and jostling. I could manage to get closer to the human pyramid to take close shots which was unthinkable in previous festivals.
One another observation I would like to make is the indiscriminate use of innocent children some as small as 5- 10 years taking part in dahi handi ceremony. They were used because of their light weight and fragile body which make it easier for them to climb swiftly reaching the top layer of the human pyramid within striking distance of the hanging dahi handi. Some were seen crying or irritant as they were being coxed and cajoled to take part in it. There is also a risk factor in the human pyramid. A fall from the top would break your bones and land you in hospital. In case of boys between 10 – 15 years they were the happier lot as they were carried on shoulders in a victory procession on successfully breaking the dahi handi.
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