Uttarayan (known as Makar Sankranti in other parts of India) is the day when the sun starts to travel northwards marking the decline of winter. The days become longer, the skies clearer and the breeze cooler. A feeling of anticipation, joy and jubilation grips all who celebrate the occasion of thanksgiving and merry-making.
Gujarat celebrates 2,000 festivals every year! Among these, the festival of Uttarayan is one of the grandest and stands tall. In Gujarat, Uttarayan is a holiday when every family can be met outdoors. People of all ages fly kites from dawn to dusk. Crowded rooftops, fun-loving rivalry to outdo each other in kite flying skills and delicious traditional Gujarati feast are the hallmarks of the day.
History & Significance of Uttarayan:
The fascination and the revelry associated with the kite flying cuts across age groups, class and communities. Although, Uttarayan is predominantly a Hindu festival marking the awakening of the gods from their deep slumber, history has it that India developed a rich tradition of kite flying due to the patronage of the Kings and ‘Nawabs’ who found the sport both entertaining and a way of displaying their prowess. Trained fliers were employed to fly kites for kings. Slowly, the art started becoming popular amongst the masses. Today, manufacturing of kites is a serious business. It attracts big names of the corporate world as kites provide for the most cost-effective opportunity for branding. The stakes are high and prizes for the competition grand.
Months before the festival of Uttarayan, homes in the localities of various cities in Gujarat turn into kite producing factories with all family members doing their bit in the seasonal cottage business. The paper and sticks are cut, the glue is stirred and thousands of kites are prepared in the market. The string is coated with a special glass powder and rice paste, all set to cut each other’s strings and knock down the kites. The size of the kite ranges from nine inches to three feet.
Members of various communities irrespective of cast and creed are engaged in the business of kites. Rich or poor, people enjoy this festival in their own ways. The aerodynamic skill, devotion and ingenuity that goes into the kite making and flying is almost a religion in itself, honed to the level of an art form, though it looks deceptively simple.
Ahmedabad: Kite Capital
Although the Kite Festival is celebrated all over Gujarat, it is the most exciting in the capital city of Ahmedabad. The night before is electric with brisk business in buying and selling kites, in amazingly numerous bulk purchases. The Patang Bazaar (kite market), situated in the heart of Ahmedabad city, is open 24 hours a day during the Uttarayan week. A visit to the Bazaar in the middle of the night proves beyond all doubt that the entire population of the city is obsessed with kites and they crowd the streets and buy the stocks while negotiating and enjoying through the night.
Uttarayan is the time to indulge in ceaseless amazement – in the most pulse racing kite competitions. There are kites and more kites, in all shapes and designs, but some stand out for their sheer size and novelty.
And the excitement continues even after dark. The nights see the arrival of the illuminated box kites, often in a series strung on one line, to be launched into the sky. Known as tukkals, these kites add a touch of splendor to the dark sky. What’s more, the day is marked with the traditional food/delicacy festival of Gujarat like the undhiyu (a delicacy of vegetables), jalebi (sweets), til ladoo (sweets made of sesame seeds) and chikki for the guests from different parts of world.
The International Kite Festival:
Every year, the extraordinary fanfare associated with the paper works of art called kite brings people together from far and wide – be it from Japan, Australia, Malaysia, USA, Brazil, Canada and European Countries – to participate in the International Kite Festival.