Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Thursday, 18 august 2011 | Catalan News Agency


Catalan human towers embark on an educational trip to India

(Published at the Catalan News Agency)

Vilafranca del Penedès (ACN).- The Catalan group, Castells Vilafranca sees their trip to Mumbai as an opportunity not only to teach but also to learn, explained the group’s Vice President Francesc Bou, who pointed out that "the structures of Govinda (Indian human towers) are based more on balance than on force". The President of the group Miquel Farret characterised the exchange as a "window of opportunity" to explore new formations and techniques. Castellers de Vilafranca, from the Penedès county, will travel to India on Thursday although activities will not begin until Saturday.

The trip coincides with the Hindu festival of 'Janmaashtami' which marks the birth of the God Krishna. In line with Indian tradition, teams of human towers known as Govindas can be seen performing their art to celebrate the end of the festival. During this time the Catalan association will offer an Indian audience some of their most impressive structures such as a human tower eight stories high and cylindrical with a single spire of people and eight stories high balancing in the middle.

Catalan human towers, an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity”

Human Towers or “Castells” in Catalan language (literally meaning “castles”) are a rooted tradition in Catalonia. Originating in Valls near Tarragona, the tradition of building human structures is still very much alive today, probably more than ever before. The concept is simple: organizing teams into formations whereby the tower grows as each member successfully stands on their team-mates shoulders. The technique is much more complicated than this however and Catalan teams pride themselves on creating increasingly challenging structures. Exciting, frightening (towers often reach eight stories high), and ever entertaining, Castells were honoured in 2010 with UNESCO recognition, as a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritable of Humanity.'

President of the Castellers de Vilafranca, Miquel Farret, said that his teams encounter with other Indian groups, in addition to strengthening ties between the two traditions, will also present an opportunity for developing on "a technical level" the performances of both parties.

The association from the Penedès County are said to be "very excited" to learn how the Indian Govinda buildings work. According to the President, while "our structures are based on compact and sturdy structures, they create their towers based on balance." This exchange can be "used to innovate on both sides and improve our standard" he added.

Miquel Farret said on Tuesday that the main presentation of Catalan towers will be on Saturday 22nd along with some of the best Indian Govinda's in the country. The Indian audience will see four impressive formations from the Catalan group: an eight story tower with four people to each level and a separate singular needle inside, a tower of eight stories with 'folre' (a second tier support base), a nine story tower with three people to a tier again with 'folre' and a singular pillar of seven stories.

According to Farret, the main objective of the trip is related to their activity as human tower builders, "to better prepare for St. Felix's feast day", the day of a major towers competition in Tarragona. The group will be in India from the 18th to the 25th August with mornings devoted to trials, while the afternoons will be free for cultural visits.

Declaring the towers as a sport

Miquel Farret quoted the Hindu newspaper "The Times of India" whilst explaining that the Indian Government has agreed to consider reclassifying the Govinda (castles) as a sport. The proposal, according to the President of Castellers Vilafranca, "is interesting" because, if approved, the sports minister wants to increase resources for the groups, and increase the dissemination of this tradition thus securing its future. According Farret, "this is an open debate."

Supportive aspect of the trip

"Smiles of Bombay" is an NGO that, since 2005, has focused its action to fight against poverty, respect for human rights and equal opportunities in the city of Mumbai. According to its CEO, Alexanda Haglund, during the stay in India, the Castellers Vilafranca will visit the school Yashodhan to see the work being done here. This school of 800 students will host a performance by the group Tower of Penedès.

The feast of Janmaashtami

The religious festival Janmaashtami is better known in Mumbai as 'Dahi Handi', although the practice of human towers, better known in India as Govinda, is now considered a local sport in its own right. Govinda is also the name for the boys involved in building human towers who are grouped in pairs.

The "hand" is a clay pot full of butter milk which is suspended at high altitude in the street before the start of the festival. The boy climbs the top of the human pyramid to break the "hand" hitting it with a blunt object, until the pot smashes, releasing the butter milk which covers the whole party. This symbolizes success achieved through unity. In Mumbai some 700 groups compete for more than 4,000 "Hands".

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