January 14, the Makar Sankranti (Uttarayana) day heralds the change of season. An event is best experienced at the heart of all the action. Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan – the kite flying festival in Ahmedabad – the world’s heritage city, is synonymous with kite flying. It is celebrated across the country in different ways and the cultural significance of the festival varies geographically.
Makar Sankranti is one of the most auspicious days for the Hindus and is celebrated in almost all parts of the country in myriad cultural forms with great devotion, fervor and gaiety. The word ‘Makar’ means Capricorn and ‘Sankranti’ is transition. The term Uttarayana is derived from two different Sanskrit words “Uttara” (North) and “Ayana” (movement), thus indicating a northward movement of the Sun on the celestial sphere.
The international kite festival in Ahmedabad gathers kite flyers from across the country and the world. Kite enthusiasts from across India and also foreign countries are participating in the week-long festival that is being celebrated across cities in Gujarat. The festival of Uttarayana marks the day when winter begins to turn into summer, according to the Indian calendar. 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. Being popular as the Kite festival in Gujarat, it is also famous as the beginning of the harvest season and it is celebrated on the same day of the English Calender every year.
Kite flying during Makar Sankranti or Uttarayana is an important part of the celebrations. One of the reasons is that as it is a time of thanksgiving, it is also a time to be happy. Though Kite festival is celebrated all over Gujarat, it is the most exciting in the capital city of Ahmedabad. The International Kite Festival (Uttarayana) in Ahmedabad is regarded as one of the biggest festivals celebrated. Months before the festival, homes in Gujarat begin to manufacture kites for the festival.
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. Kites for Uttarayana are made of special light-weight paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with central spine and a single bow. The festival gives boost to the kite industry which employs around 3 lakh people. A visit to the Patang (Kite) Bazaar in the middle of the night proves beyond all doubt that the entire population of Ahmedabad city is obsessed with kites and they crowd the streets and buy the stocks while negotiating and enjoying through the night. The Patang Bazaar is open 24 hours a day during the Uttarayan week.
All sorts of colourful shiny toys act as accompaniments to the kites. On Uttarayana, in Ahmedabad the sky is full of colourful kites of all sizes and shapes. One finds an unequalled experience. In the major cities of Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, and Jamnagar the skies appear filled with thousands upon thousands of kites as people enjoy two full days of Uttarayan on their terraces. Wonderful and appealing kites in various shapes and hues decorate the sky like a thousand fowls.
On this day, locals are hardly seen on the streets as everybody takes to the rooftop of their respective houses to fly kites. In Gujarat, a special winter vegetable called undhiyu is the specialty of the day. It’s a preparation of several beans, roots and other local seasonal vegetables. It does not matter what your background or beliefs are but if you are in Gujarat on January 14, you will find yourself flying kites with everyone sharing fun and pleasure.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)