Happy Birthday, Krishna ! In cities like Mumbai, Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan temples and homes light up during the festival. Cribs with Baby Krishna dolls in traditional costumes are decorated and displayed in homes. Through Raas Leelas (dance dramas), the performers enact incidents from Krishna's life.
The festival is celebrated with pomp and splendor. People fast till midnight, the time of Krishna’s birth. Poojas, or prayer ceremonies are held in temples and homes to welcome the lord at midnight amongst joyous singing of hymns. Prasad (sweets offered to the Lord and later eaten by devotees) is distributed to everyone and it is time for everyone to have a hearty vegetarian meal. The most popular sweets made on this day are laddoos and payasam (kheer). Dahi Handi is celebrated on the day after Krishna is born at midnight. The festival is also known as ‘Gopal kala’. The name comes from a dish or a mixture of yoghurt, pounded rice and jaggery, which is offered to Krishna on the day. The same mixture is placed in the Dahi Handi pot.
Krishna was very fond of curd and butter. He and his friends used to steal butter from the houses in Vrindavan. To save their curd and butter from Krishna and his friends, women used to keep it in a pot and hung it from the ceiling of their houses so that it could not be easily reached. But Krishna and his friends used to form a human pyramid and easily steal and eat the curd and butter.
During the 'Dahi Handi' ceremony, a large earthenware pot is filled with milk, curds, butter, honey fruits etc. and is suspended from a height between 20 to 40 feet. The pot is also decorated with flowers and currency notes. Young men and boys come forward to construct a human pyramid by standing over each other's shoulders till the pyramid is tall enough to enable the topmost person to reach the pot and claim the contents after breaking it. They practise weeks in advance to make the festival a great success. This ceremony replicates Krishna's love for milk and butter.
Today, Dahi Handi is a major event in major cities and towns in Maharashtra and involves lot of money and large crowds. Prizes for breaking the Dahi Handi pot arre sponsored by various political parties ranging from 1000 Rupees to 2 million rupees.