Every year Uttarayan brings a festive mood to the people of Gujarat. on January 14th they celebrate the traditional kite festival. Both the kids and the adults come together for flying kites at the break of dawn. This year I had the opportunity to see the kite festival with my friend’s family.
Themes of Kites
I arrived on Jan 12th to my friend’s house, yet the city is already in a festive mood, with everyone clamoring to buy kites from their favorite vendors. Some of these vendors’ families have been making kites since the Mughal period and they are the exemplar kite artisans. It’s no wonder that people flock to buy their themed kites. I visited a popular kite store and saw thousands of bright colored kites with motifs of Bollywood film stars, India’s top cricket players, animals, and cartoon characters. Fighter kites are also very popular, as they are used in kite competitions. The skillful kite artists prepare these kits with precise geometrical alignments in the use of paper, bamboo sticks, and tail. And then the lines used to fly the kites. All the lines of the kites are covered with a mixture called Manjha, specifically prepared with various mixtures and crushed glass to give strength to the kites to fly in heavy winds. Each vendor prepares the Manjha with their unique formula that has its own distinct appeal to the locals. During this hectic time, all these shops are open 24 hours to sell the kites to their haggling customers.
I stayed for about an hour in a kite shop, and I was amazed to see the people buy the kites in bulk for the festival. The kite shop owner told that he sells more kites in this five day span than he sells in the rest of the year.
Uttarayan does not begin without popular local food which are very much part of the celebrations. For example, snakes made with regional produce like sesame seeds, grains, and peanuts are a popular delicacies. The most popular food for the lunch is called undhiyu (food cooked with vegetables and spices). My friend told that traditionally this food is made in mud pots buried upside-down in the ground. Generally undhiyu is eaten with puri (Indian wheat bread). I had the luxury of eating undhiyu with puris with my friend’s family.
The main excitement of the kite festival is kite fighting, in which men and women target their neighbors. The idea is to tactically move the kite close to your neighbor’s kite by pulling, releasing, and rotating the string, which will allow the kite to go slow or fast, left or right with the wind. I was watching the kite fight from my friend’s terrace; his family members were fighting with one of his neighbors. My friend explained that the line management (the thread that holds the flying kite) is very important as you need to have at least two people managing it while also having one main flyer fly the kite. As per the flyer’s request, the line has to be either released or pulled-back. The winner of the kite fight is ultimately determined by the skill of the kite flyer and the quality of the Manjha.
As I was watching my friend’s family is fighting his neighbor’s kite, I looked up. The sky was fully dotted with colorful kites everywhere. The afternoon sun was bright- it was not warm, but it was enough to make me sweat. I looked around the neighborhood, all the houses have people in their terrace flying the kites. Suddenly my friend screamed “Leave more! Leave more!” towards his siblings managing the line. I immediately looked up and saw his and his neighbor’s kites neck-and-neck with each other. At that point, it is the real time to show your kite flying skills to cut the other kite. I looked on as my friend attempted all kinds of acrobat movements to cut his neighbor. Suddenly everyone jumped up and exclaimed “You did it! Well cut!”My friend handed the line to his brother, pride etched all over his face.
I spent one more day in Uttarayan after the kite festival, and thanked my friend and his family for their great hospitality during my entire stay in there house. I live in Chennai (South India) where we do fly kites, but what they do in Gujarat is but a dream to us. There is something almost entrancing about the pure, unadulterated joy of flying a kite- and for one day, you can experience that joy in mass as kites swirl around you in Uttarayan.
You can fly from any major city in India to Ahmadabad, which has a international airport. From Ahmadabad you can go to any major city either by bus, car or train.
Where to stay
Several hotels are there in all major cities for you to stay, during Uttarayan time, the Gujarat Tourism makes special arrangements for both international and local visitors.
When to go
Uttarayan date is every year January 14th.