August 26, 2008

Gopikas Take Girl Power to Udupi

By Kumar Sambhav

Mumbai: Gopika aali re. Yes, but not in Mumbai alone. The rousing cry will echo beyond the borders of Maharashtra. A gaggle of 150 Mumbai gopikas has arrived in Udupi in Karnataka to take a crack at the handi and spread the message of girl power.

This women's brigade of the Gorakhnath Dahi Handi Mandal of Kurla won hearts in Dwarika in Gujarat last year and is ready to do the same in Sambhar and Dosa this Janmashtami . "Dwarika was the kingdom of Lord Krishna, but it was our gopika team that broke the dahi handi there for the first time. Udupi is also famous for its Krishna devotees but it is we who will introduce the govinda culture there also," says mandal director Shlaka Bhau Korgaonmar.

The team is made up of girls still in school and college, their mothers, and sundry housewives . They are taking their task seriously. After a hectic day's work the girls gather at 7:30 pm for practice, with bandanas knotted tightly round their foreheads. Without too much trouble, a five-tier pyramid is swiftly formed. It's an adrenaline rush for this determined group, and once dismantled, their faces are flushed with a rosy glow. "We are so excited. Every time we go out to break a handi, we become the centre of attention. Outside Mumbai, it's a completely new thing for people to see girls making human pyramids ," says Jaya Sosa, a team member.

Team coach Bandu Kamble days that training the gopika brigade was not particularly problematic, since most of the girls have a sports background and enjoy the pyramid exercise. "Sometimes when the girl on top loses her balance and falls, the pyramid collapses like a house of cards but it's part of the game. The girls are saved by their mothers who form a circle of safety around the pyramid," he says.

There are around 40 girls in the team and around a hundred women stand around them. Ten-year-old Priyanka, the youngest in the group, who has the prized job of breaking the handi, is blithely unconcerned about tumbles. "I never look down. My eyes are always on the handi. Nothing can match the joy of being drenched in milk and curd after it," she laughs.

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