Broken bones, and at times even death, have become synonymous with dahi handi celebrations, with tall pyramids made by Govindas the main attraction of the festival.
However, mandals are now opening up to the idea of having trekkers on standby to minimise injuries to Govindas in case of a pyramid collapse. The initiative was started by the president of Maharashtra Trekkers Association, Ratnakar Kapileshwar, in 2011.
“I have been a mountaineer for the last 32 years and believe we can use our expertise in saving Govindas from the injuries they sustain during the festival,” Kapileshwar said.
The association has been meeting with city dahi handi mandals and encouraging them to strap body harnesses on to those who make the pyramid, especially those who form the top three or four tiers.
Kapileshwar said, “The harness is controlled by way of a pulley, which would be tied to a rope other than the one used for the handi. People on the ground can control the pulley; if at all the pyramid collapses, the Govindas won’t actually hit the ground and hurt themselves.”
The association has also asked the local Govinda mandals to take the help of local mountaineering and trekking clubs -- there are around 100 such clubs in the city.
Siddhesh Mandgaonkar, coordinator of Gopal Krishna Krida mandal in Tardeo, said, “We have a six-tier human pyramid for dahi handi every year. We realised the importance of the safety of Govindas and have made use of harness compulsory. We also keep a first aid box ready for emergency.”
Last year, around 100 Govindas were injured and treated.
Vivek Pagde, coach and president of Akhil Malpa Dongri Govinda Pathak, Andheri, who has more than 500 Govindas participating in the festival, agreed that having trekkers present during the celebrations is a morale booster.
On the precautions his group takes, Pagde said, “Every year, we form an eight-tier human pyramid and practise for two months beforehand. We also take along two bone setters and a doctor.”
Doctors, however, are sceptical about how much a harness will help, particularly in case of neck injuries.
Dr Abhay Nene, spine surgeon at PD Hinduja Hospital, said, “Every year, we get at least one Govinda with a severe injury.
The worse affected are those in the lower and middle tiers with their head bent, carrying the others on their shoulders.
They sustain neck injuries that can lead to them becoming quadriplegic.”