Uttarayan, also known as the International Kite Festival, is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in India. It takes place on Makar Sankranti every year, Makar Sankranti, or Maghi as it is commonly called, being the day that the sun transitions into Makara (Capricorn). It beckons the end of the month of the winter solstice and the beginning of longer days. One of the very few festivals in India that follows the solar cycle instead of the lunar cycle, Makar Sankranti and therefor Uttarayan, falls on the fourteenth of January every year. The festival welcomes everyone to take part, irrespective of their religion, gender or nationality,
Where is Uttarayan Celebrated?
Uttarayan is celebrated mainly throughout Gujarat, but also in cities in Telangana and Rajasthan. The main event, which is the International Kite Festival, is hosted in Ahmedabad and attracts participants and spectators from all over the globe. Ahmedabad is often called the Kite capital of Gujarat. One of the best places to enjoy Uttarayan is by the Sabarmati Riverfront. With a capacity of over five hundred thousand, the area remains flooded with vibrantly coloured kites and smiling faces from as early as 5:00 in the morning. Another popular location is the Ahmedabad Police Station, where you can lay down and enjoy the lovely view. Most visitors come from around India, but there are plenty of international tourists as well, especially from countries like Japan, China, Malaysia, the UK, and France. Approximately eight to ten million people participate in the festival every year.
History of Uttarayan Festival
Uttarayan symbolises the awakening of the Gods from their deep slumber; It is believed that the idea of flying kites was brought to India by Muslims from Persia. The Kings and Nawabs of the time thought of it as an entertaining sport and used it to display their skills and prowess. Beginning as a sport for the Royalty, it soon trickled down to the masses. Kite flying eventually became one of the most popular sports in Gujarat, and every year for Uttarayan, rooftops and playing fields would be filled with people of all ages looking up at the sky, flying their kites. The first International Kite Festival was celebrated in 1989 for people from all around the world to display their unique and innovative kites.
2. Telangana International Kite Festival
The Telangana International Kite Festival is a relatively newer kite festival that is as beautiful as the one in Ahmedabad. It started in 2016 and takes place every year on the 13th, 14th, and 15th of January at the Parade Grounds in Hyderabad. Last year it hosted twenty-seven kite clubs and saw a footfall of over fifty thousand. Apart from simple kite flying, it includes fun, interactive workshops on kite making and many more cultural activities. The best part, entry is free for all. One of the most popular events is the night-time kite flying event that takes place on the first and second night. The third night brings with it an incredible closing ceremony with a plethora of cultural activities including music and dance. The Telangana Kite Festival should be on your shortlist if you are looking for a short, fun-filled holiday.
Pataang Bazaar (Kite Store)
Throughout the festival week, markets are flooded with kite sellers. Pataang Bazaar is probably the most famous of these markets. It remains operative 24x7 during the festival weeks and is always crowded with sellers selling all sorts of high-quality kites and buyers buying in bulk. Pataang Bazaar is loud and chaotic, but despite the thick crowd, it remains incredibly beautiful. It's easy to lose one's self among the narrow winding roads packed with stall after stall of colourful kites with intricate designs. Prices can range from INR 5 to INR 5000 and even more, depend on the size and quality of the kite. Most of these kites are handmade with bamboo shoots and thin paper. All sorts of colourful, shiny toys accompany the kites. The ambience is just like that of the carnival. For an authentic taste of India, you must visit Pataang Bazaar.
Kite Fighting during the Kite Festival
The most common game played on Uttarayan, kite fighting is played by using one's kite string to tear down someone else's. Small, unstable kites are used and controlled solely with the tension in the line. These kites are called Pataang. Thin cotton or hemp line is used to fly a kite. Before the flight, however, the line is coated with a mixture of crushed glass and glue known as Manjha. After applying the Manjha to the line, it becomes abrasive and with correct technique, can be used to tear other lines during flight. The lines are often so sharp that they cut fingers. Usually, there are teams of two, with one player holding the spool and the other feeding the line through their fingers, controlling the tension. When the line is left taut, the kite gets deformed by the wind and remains stable to some extent. By reducing the tension, it begins to sway left or right depending on the wind. Players use this phenomenon to attack their opponents. Bridle position, spine curve, and centre of gravity, all play essential roles in flight control. On cutting down another kite, the victor yells 'woh katana', and often drums are sounded. Kite fighting is an enjoyable sport, both to spectate and participate.
Types of Kites
Apart from the usual Pataangs (Indian fighter kites), The Kite Festival is home to a plethora of beautiful and elegant kites. Much of these have been brought to India from abroad. Some different kites that you can get to see at the festival are:
As with every other great festival in India, Uttarayan is accompanied by delicious, traditional recipes. Undhiyu is very popular and is served in pop-up stalls around the city. It is a Gujarati dish made of seasonal vegetables including green beans, peas, unripe banana, and potatoes. Another essential ingredient in Undhiyu is Muthiya. Muthiya is a type of pancake made by deep frying fenugreek leaves with a besan (chickpea flour) coating. The vegetables and muthiya are cooked together with a combination of spices in an upside-down pot which is heated from above by placing it underground and lighting a fire on top. Another scrumptious snack is chikki. Chikki is a type of candy made from til (sesame seeds), peanuts and gur (jaggery). Jalebis are also very common. These are deep-fried spirals of batter that are soaked in sugar syrup and served hot. No matter whether or not you have a sweet tooth, you will find something that you will enjoy.
Once the sun sets
The sunset over the city is breathtakingly beautiful as the sky is filled with kites of all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes that glisten in the golden light. Once it gets dark, the sky is illuminated with hundreds of tukkals (kites carrying candles) and paper lanterns. It indeed is a spectacle to behold.
As kite fighting involves the use of extremely sharp manjha on the strings, there is a high chance that you may cut yourself. Before attempting to fly a kite yourself, ask for help from a friend or tour guide in the know. You can also consider wearing a glove or bandaging your fingers before-hand to avoid any accidents. Keep in mind that the crowded markets during Uttarayan are home to many a pickpocket. Be extremely careful of your belongings and make sure not to leave them behind anywhere. Shopkeepers also tend to hike their rates for tourists so it helps to have a localised whom you can trust. Lastly, drink mineral water instead of tap water to prevent any problems with your stomach.