Ask our previous generation about the joy of flying kites and they will narrate stories with fond nostalgia. Even though we do not see so many kites in the sky as we did even a decade ago, the culture of kite flying still exists. There are still those who like to go out in the evening with their friends and often one holds the bridle and the other harnesses the kite as they compete to cut off the other kites in the sky. However, in the world of smartphones and television, there are only a few who still nurture this hobby. But on one day of the year, that is not the case as one can witness thousands of kites soaring in the Indian sky.
That day is known as the International Kite Festival celebrated on the 14th of January every year. This festival, also known as Uttarayan or Makar Sankrant is a uniquely Gujarati phenomenon when the skies over most cities of the state are adorned with kites from dawn till dusk. The festival marks the days of a change of season in the Hindu calendar as winter turns to summer. It is generally a warm sunny day with a light breeze to lift the kites aloft. Throughout the state, all work comes to a standstill as people take to the rooftops and roadways to fly kites and compete with their neighbors.
Kites of all shapes and sizes are flown, and the main competition is to battle nearby kite flyers to cut their strings and bring down their kites. To do this, people rely on their favored kite-makers who prepare strong resilient kite bodies with springy bamboo frames and kite paper stretched to exactly the right tension. Lastly, the kites are attached to a spool (or firkin) of manja, which is a special kite string coated with a mixture of glue and glass to be as sharp as possible for cutting strings of rival kites. Preparation of kites and kite supplies can be witnessed on the streets of Ahmedabad beginning in November. The largest crowd you can find is in and around Patang Bazaar, the special kite market that appears in the old city. For the week preceding the festival, it is open 24 hours a day for all kite lovers to stock up for the festivities.
Since 1989, the city of Ahmedabad has hosted the International Kite Festival bringing master kite makers and flyers from all over the world to demonstrate their unique creations and astound the crowds with a plethora of kites. In past years, master kite makers from Malaysia have brought their wau-balang kites, llayang-llayanghave come from Indonesia, kite innovators from the USA have arrived with giant banner kites, and Japanese rokkaku fighting kites have shared the skies with Italian sculptural kites, Chinese flying dragons, and the latest high-tech modern wonders. A master kite maker and famous kite flyer Rasulbhai Rahimbhai of Ahmedabad trains of up to 500 kites on a single string have come to be a classic attraction.
If you have a penchant for kites, you know where to be this January.
You can find out more about the festival here.