Uttarayan : A Kite Festival
The Surya Siddhanta defines Uttarayan, as the period between the MakraSankranti and KarkaSankranti. The term Uttarayanais derived from two different Sanskrit word “Uttara” (North) and “ayana” (Movement) thus indicating a semantic of the northward movement of the Sun on the celestial sphere. This movement begins to occur a day after the winter solstice in December which occurs around 22 December and continues for a six-month period through to the summer solstice around June 21 (dates vary). This difference is due to the fact that the solstices are continually processing at a rate of 50” / year due to the precession of the equinoxes, i.e. this difference is the difference between the sidereal and tropical zodiacs. The Surya Siddhanta bridges this difference by juxtaposing the four solstitial and equinoctial points with four of the twelve boundaries of the rashis.
Uttarayan also known as MakarSakranti in many 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 the kite flying skills and delicious traditional Gujarati feast are the hallmarks of the day.
History and Significance
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 corporates world as kites provide for the most cost effective opportunity for branding. The stakes are high and prize for the competition grand.
Kite Capital: Ahmedabad
Although the kite festival is celebrated all over Gujarat, it is the most exciting in the capital city of
Ahmedabad. The right before is electric with brisk business in buying and selling kites, in amazingly numerous bulk purchases. The Patang Bazar, situated in the heart of Ahmedabad city, is open 24 hours a day during the Uttarayan week. A visit to the Bazar 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.
Types of Kites
During the event, kite markets are set up alongside food stalls and performers. The kites are usually made with materials such as plastic, leaves, wood, metal, nylon and other scrap materials but the ones for Uttarayan are made of light-weight paper and bamboo and are mostly rhombus shaped with central spine and a single bow. Dye and paint are also added to increase the glamour of the kite. The lines are covered with mixtures of glue and ground glass which when dried, rolled up and attached to the rear, also known as firkees, become sharp enough to cut skin. These types of sharp lines are used on fighter kites known in India as Patangs to cut down other kites filled with lights and candles known as tukals are launched creating a spectacles in the dark sky.
International Kite Festival
Although the idea of flying kites to celebrate Uttarayan was introduced by Muslims from Persia, today regardless of your background or beliefs, you are welcome to fly kites with everyone else in Gujarat in January. Most visitors arrive from around India, from Gujarat itself or another state. In major cities of Gujarat, kite flying starts as early as 5 am and goes until late night where approximately 8 – 10 million people participate in the whole festival. However, many visitors are international who come from around the world, such as Japan, Italy, UK, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, France, China, and many more to take part in the celebration. The kite festival has been strongly influenced by its international participants, for instance
- Malaysia brought wau-balang kites
- Indonesia brought Ilayang-Ilayanghave
- USA brought giant banner kites
- Japan brought Rokkaku fighting kites
- Italy brought Italian sculptural kites
- Chinese brought Flying Dragon Kites
At the same time, the festival is the occasion for many public entities such as famous dancers, singers, actors or politicians who make an appearance and entertain the population. In 2004 for example, the Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla was part of the celebration and performed a Garba(dance) which is very popular in India.