Friday, 30 August 2013

The story of human pyramids and Govindas

It was initially a stronghold of men and it was classified as among the most dangerous sports. Falls were frequent and breaking bones, bleeding injuries, damaged skulls and fractures were as frequent as they could be. Yet, this sport never lost its popularity.
On the other hand, the advent of television, Internet and mass media gave a new meaning and thrust to the sport and today it is no longer confined to one city of the country but is popular among the masses all over.
This is one sport where everybody is an equal Servant and masters and today middle aged men, youth and even children join hands to celebrate the sport and the prize money now runs into lakhs and sometime even on crores.
Politicians, cricket players, sports persons, film actors and even academicians play the sport for the sheer thrill it gives and the adrenaline its sets flowing.
The sport virtually brings life to a standstill. No wonder it has gained national and international recognition and today, legislators are debating whether to officially accord sport tag to the event so that participants can take benefits that are given to persons participating in other sports such as cricket, hockey and football.
This is the spectacular Dahi Handi of Mumbai. Dahi Handi means forming a human chain or a pyramid and breaking a matka or pot and it is closely associated with the legend of Lord Krishna and his childhood prank of stealing butter and ghee from pots tied high up in kitchens of people.
The sport is generally played out on Krishnaastami or Gokulastami and it virtually brings life in Mumbai to a grinding halt. People of all ages, caste, community and even foreigners enthusiastically take part in the sport.
Make no mistake. It is a dangerous sport as the pots are tied and hung several hundred feet high above the ground or roads. People form human pyramids, clambering one upon the other and the smallest and less weight of them stands on top and breaks the pot to a roar from the crowd gathered.
Falls are frequent and injuries common to Govindas. People who are part of the human chain are called Govindas and this year 99 Govindas were injured across Mumbai.        
The Govindas clamber upon each other even as the crowds yell Ala Re Ala, Govinda Ala. Some in the crowds throw water on the Govindas so as to make climbing more difficult.
This year, actor Shahrukh Khan was seen at the dahi handi organised by MNS MLA Ram Kadam in Ghatkopar.
A cash reward of Rs 50 lakh had been announced for Govinda mandal which manages to break the pot by forming a nine-layer pyramid.
Ddahi handis with lucrative cash prizes are common in Thane and one of the most prominent is the one organised by Sangharsh Mandal of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Jitendra Awhad who has annopubnced a prize of Rs. 1.11 crores. Another NCP leader Sachin Ahir’s NGO Dahi Handi in Jambooree Maidan at Worli has a prize money close to Rs 1 crore. He is also the Maharashtar Minister of Housing.
Shiv Sena leader from Sion, Ajay Dadgujar, has announced a prize money of Rs1 crore for the Handi in the Bandra Kurla Complex.
The BJP this year distributed masks and T-shirts bearing the image of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, to 30,000 Govinda teams, apparently to project him as the party's prime ministerial candidate.
Women Govindas too are now taking to this sport and they too have their own teams. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Kishor Shinde organised an all-girls' dahi handi for the third consecutive year in Kothrud. There are a lot of mahila govindas in Navi Mumbai who have come to the forefront to participate in breaking of the pots. And this not only includes adults, but also small girls in the age group of seven to 12.
Organisers of the Suvarnayug Mandal decided to donate Rs1 lakh to the family of martyr Kundalik Mane, one of the five soldiers of the Indian Army, killed by the Pakistani troops in Poonch recently.
Though Dahi Handi is popular across Maharashtra, it is in Mumbai and Thane that the celebrations are considered to be special. At the latest count, there were more than 500 mandals from these two areas participating in the sport.
The Dahi Handis are attracting political attention. The Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar distributed insurance policies to around 350 mandals. As many as 30,000 members of dahi handi teams have been given insurance policies with a cover of Rs 1.5 lakh per person.
Two years ago, ten people from Mumbai had visited Spain while five Spaniards had come to city to watch the human pyramid festival and share the experience.
A similar festival in Spain is held annually in Castelle.  A castell (Catalan pronunciation) is a human tower built traditionally in festivals at many locations within Catalonia. At these festivals, several colles castelleres or teams often succeed in building and dismantling a tower's structure. On November 16, 2010, castells were declared by UNESCO to be amongst the Masterpieces of  the oral and intangible heritage of humanity..
The Maharashtra State Tourism Board has invited 250 Spanish castellers and 150 homegrown govindas from Thane for a dahi handi competition at the Gateway.
With politicians jumping bi time into Dahi Handis, legislators and mandals (associations) are demanding inclusion of Dahi Handi in the state sports policy. If so declared, it will help youth get jobs in government and banking sectors under the sports quota.
Incidentally, the Dahi Handi has been covered by the BBC in 2010. The origin of the sport,  Govinda, goes back to the eighteenth century in Girgaum where it was essentially a  religious ceremony. It was started by the community of Pathare Prabhus and slowly it spread to other communities and other areas. The sport has proved so popular that a business management school in Mumbai has prescribed Govinda as a lesson in their training course.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The world's largest laundromat

This is the world’s biggest open air Laundromat. It is the scene of many films and has now transformed itself into an international sight seeing exhibit.
This is the famous Dhobi Ghat of Mumbai. It is commonly called the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat and it is the best known among the twelve open air laundromats of Mumbai.
The dhobis or washers work in the open to wash the clothes from Mumbai's hotels and hospitals. The Dhobi Ghat comprises of  rows upon rows of open-air concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone.
Simply called the world's largest outdoor laundry, Dhobi Ghat is a very popular attraction among foreign tourists and it is a great photo op for them. Several films have been shot here and even the venerable New York Times has carried an article on it.
Bollywood has named an entire film after the Dhobi Ghat. Its names: Of course Dhobi Ghat and it was released in January 2011. The film is also known as Mumbai diaries and it stars  Amir Khan, Prateik Babbar and others. Bollywood’s iconic film Don starring Amitabh Bachchan was shot here-a song from the film was shot at the Washermen Colony in Mahalakshmi- as was Sanjay Dutt’s Munnabhai.
Just a few months ago, Tamil actor Vijay was at the Ghat shooting for his film Thupaki and Anil Kapoor some time ago for the Hindi film Shootout at Wadala.  
The who is who of the world have come and seen the Dhobiu Ghat and gone back impressed. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, former US President  Bill Clinton, the Australian Cricket team, and others have visited the Ghat.  
Since it is located next to the Mahalakshmi Railway Station on the Western Railway network at Saat Rasta roundabout, it is also called Mahalakshmi Dhobi Ghat.
The beginnings of the Dhobi Ghat go back to the time when Europeans and Parsis made Bombay their home in the 19th century and the city began to industrialise. It was sometime between 1885 and 1890 that the Ghat was set up and later it had 731 washing stones (Today too there are the same number).
The dhobi Ghat can easily be seen from flyover bridge of Mahalaxmi suburban railway station. 
In 2013, World Records India and World Amazing Records honored World Record Certificate to Dhobi Kalyan & Audhyogik Vikas Co- op. Society Ltd and recognized the ghat as the largest open air laundry in the world.
The Dhobi Ghat, by any stretch of imagination, is a stupendous sight. You can see hundreds of washermen or dhobis washing clothes, dipping soiled clothes in huge buckets filled with soapy suds.
The washed clothes are then dried under the open sky and you can see rows and rows of clothes hung out to dry. One hundred to one hundred and fifty clothes are hung out to dry on each rope which is tied to a bamboo pole at opposite ends.
What many do not know is that only a handful of dhobis here are involved in washing clothes of individual people or families. Most of them wash clothes which come from hotels, hospitals and commercial establishments like restaurants, guest houses.
It is a sight to see hundreds of washermen dip clothes in boiling water containing washing soda and then systematically flogged on the stone slabs set in the concrete pens. Over a lakh clothes are washed every day, ironed and handed back to the customers the same day.
After the clothes dry, they are  ironed with charcoal presses which are very heavy. These charcoal presses have wooden handles and the burning embers emit sufficient heat to press clothes.
According to the latest statistics, more than 200 families are involved in the hereditary profession. Though the Ghat has automatic washing machines, they are not used as dhobis prefer the manual way. The iconic Dhobi Ghat is getting a make over, thanks to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
The Dhobi Ghat is more than a century old and the washing and drying area is spread over a 23-acre plot. The flooring was done when the Britishers were ruling India.
Typically, Dhobi Ghat uses about 9.000 kilograms of wood per day and the total expenditure come to about Rs 27,000 a day. The municipality rents out over 800 washing pens (each fitted with a beating stone) to the dhobis at Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat and to make the most of them, work starts well before sunrise.
The Dhobi Ghat has fourteen doors and the  main door has the sign of the Washermen cooperative society-the  Dhobi Kalyan and Audyogik Vikas Co-operative society”, above it. Till the 1960s, a watchman used to ring the bell to signal the opening of the Ghat. The watchman also ensured that nobody stayed back at the Ghat.   
Another fairly big open air laundry or Dhobi Ghat is at Colaba. This is just off  Captain Prakash Pehe Marg. The Dhobi Ghat remains open daily 24 hours. Initially, many of the dhobis were from Uttar Pradesh. Now, you can find dhobis from Gujarati, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Bihar.
Today, there are slum tours and guided outings to Dhobi Ghat: All at a price of course. Take the tour of Dhobi Ghat or do it on your own if you can stand the smell of detergent.  

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The forests and sanctuaries of Karnataka

Many visitors to the blog and friends have asked us to give us a tabular post on the many wildlife sanctuaries in Karnataka, the area in which they are situated and the best season to visit them.
The Forest Department has a list of forests, reserves, sanctuaries and biospheres. Bookings can be made at the Aranya Bhavan in Malleswaram, Bangalore, and also at Jungle Lodges and Resorts on MG Road and Khanija Bhavan office at Race Course Road.
If you are visiting forests, prior permission is necessary and it is best to take along guides if you are going for a trek or a safari. Now is the best time to visit the jungles as the forests will be lush green and the climate pleasant.
Summers can get pretty uncomfortable though that would be the best season to see almost all the wildlife. Barring the lion, giraffe and species native to Australia and New Zealand such as Ostrich, Kiwi and Chinese such as Pandas, the forests in Karnataka are home to a wide variety of animals, including elephants, tigers, dholes, hyneas, wolf, fox, jackal, snakes, bear, boar and what not.
So here goes the list and it is reproduced from the website of the Karnataka Forest Department. All credit goes to the department and we are just reproducing them for the benefit of readers and visitors.          

Karnataka has long history of efficient management of Forestry and Wildlife. The total geographical area in the State is 1,91,791 sq. kms out of which the forest area is about 43,356.95 sq. kms which constitutes about 22.6% . The Karnataka Forest Act, 1963 and Rules 1969 regulate working in the forest areas. The State has 5 National Parks and 22 Wildlife Sanctuaries covering an area of 6576.76 sq. kms. which forms nearly 15.17% of the total forest area as protected area.
Wildlife (Protection) Act was enacted during 1972 by Government of India to provide for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants and with a view to ensuring the ecological and environmental security of the country. The elephant population in India is around 25,000 of which the estimated population in Karnataka is around 5590(Census 2010), which constitutes about 22% of the total population.

Forest occupancy of Tigers, Co-predators, Prey and population estimates of tigers.

    Tiger    (sq km)
Leopard (sq km)
Dhole (sq km)
Bear (sq km)
Chital (sq km)
Wild Pig (sq km)
Sambar (sq km)
Tiger numbers
Estimation of lower limit for tiger population - 241
Estimation of upper limit for tiger population - 339 

*Source: Wildlife Institute of India Report 2008.

Name of the National Parks
Area (
Nearest Dist. HQ
Season to Visit
Anshi National Park
Karwar 60
Bangalore 580
Bandipur National Park
Chamarajnagar 52
Bangalore 218
Bannerghatta National Park
All Seasons
Kudremukha National Park
Udupi 90
Bangalore 263
Nagarahole National Park
Mysore 120
Bangalore 240

Name of the Sanctuary
Area (
Nearest Dist. HQ
Season to Visit
Adichunchanagiri Peacock Sanctuary
Mandya 90
Bangalore 112
All Seasons
Arabithittu Wildlife Sanctuary
Mysore 28
Bangalore 170
Attiveri Bird Sanctuary
Karwar 85
Bangalore 400
BRT Wildlife Sanctuary
Chamarajnagar 35
Bangalore 234
Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary
Chickmagalur 76
Bangalore 257
Sept.- Mar
Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary
Madikeri 50
Bangalore 250
Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary
Ramnagar 30
Bangalore 87
Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary
Dharwad 67
Bangalore 482
Doraji Bear Sanctuary
Bellary 41
Bangalore 350
Ghataprabha Wildlife Sanctuary
Belgaum 82
Bangalore 505
Gudavi Bird Sanctuary
Shimoga 112
Bangalore 377
Melukote Wildlife Sanctuary
Mandya 40
Bangalore 140
Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary
Udupi 62
Bangalore 430
Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary
Mysore 57
Bangalore 202
Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary
Madikeri 12
Bangalore 250
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
Mysore 16
Bangalore 125
All Seasons
Ranibennur Blackbuck Sanctuary
Haveri 32
Bangalore 301
May – Jan
Sharavathi Wildlife Sanctuary
Mangalore 206.5
Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary
Shimoga 1
Bangalore 270
Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary
Udupi 47
Bangalore 373
Thalakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary
Madikeri 38
Bangalore 290
Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary
Rangayyanadurga Four-horned antelope Sanctuary
Chincholi Wildlife Sanctuary
Ramadevarabetta Vulture Sanctuary

Name of the Reserve
Area (sq. kms)
Year of Establishment
Bankapura Peacock Conservation Reserve
Mydhanahalli(Jayamangali) Black Buck Conservation Reserve
Basur Amruth Mahal Kaval Conservation Reserve
Hornbill Conservation Reserve
Aghanashini Conservation Reserve
Bedthi Conservation Reserve
Shalmale Riparian Bio-system Conservation Reserve
Kokkare Bellur Community Reserve

Name of the Tiger Reserve
Area (sq. kms)
Year of Establishment

Name of the Reserve
Area (Sq.kms)
Year of Establihsment