India is a country of a million festivals. The best thing a traveller can do is to co-incide their travel with a festival and this can make the overall holiday experience so much richer for a tourist. Many Indian states promote their festivals in a big way now to attract tourists from around the world and the festival calendar for the year is easily available on the internet. The International Kite Festival is one such event that is always held at Ahmedabad in Gujarat on January 14, to coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. The people of Gujarat celebrate Uttarayan with a lot of enthusiasm. It is also a celebration to mark the end of winter.
it is a holiday when every family can be met outdoors or on the terraces of their homes ‘cutting’ each other’s kites and all business comes to a grinding halt for a couple of days.
This immensely popular kite flying festival is held in all the important cities of Gujarat. The festival lures expert kite-makers and fliers not only from major cities of India but also from around the world. A plethora of designer kites are also put on display right from simple traditional paper kites to the very high tech plastic and fibre kites.
Kite flying begins at dawn and continues without a pause throughout the day. Friends, neighbours and even total strangers battle one another for supremacy and cries of triumph rend the air when someone cuts the line of a rival. It is taken very seriously in Gujarat.
It was not a breezy day in Ahmedabad this year but this did not deter them from displaying their kites, in all sizes and colours, till the sun descended. Beating the heat (it was a warm day today), they took time off to have snacks and then once again came out in the open on the Police Stadium Ground to delight the spectators.
For many kitists, who have been taking part regularly at international kite festivals, it was an opportunity to meet each other on yet another occasion. Language was no barrier for them. The event saw participation from many countries, including USA, China, Holland, Brazil, Chile, Australia Italy to name a few.
“In Gujarat, we have not seen a kite festival organised in such a manner before,” they said, when spoken to separately. But for many there was only one hindrance. As a kitist from Brazil said, “There is very little space to fly kites and people (spectators) stand very close to you.”
But before the second half of the function, when the actual kite-flying began, the masses were entertained with a Suryanamaskar presentation, a Bharatnatyam dance, a small programme by singer Falguni Pathak, a guest appearance of actress Juhi Chawla as well as the lead cast of the Star Plus popular serial.
The crowds could hardly control their excitement when Smriti Irani, Juhi Chawla, Aman Verma, Jaya Bhattacharya, Sudha Shivpuri and the rest performed garba on the stage to the tunes of Falguni Pathak, the Garba queen.
The stage appears to be set for the Prime Minister visit to Gujarat on to inaugurate the Vishwa Gujarati Parivar Mahotsav.
And to gel with the situation, the Gujarat Chief Minister said, is an example of Gujarat’s cultural strength. Like the kites, Gujarat wishes to soar high, she said. She wished that the “best in the world” should be in India and added that the function was just a humble attempt in this direction. To conclude, she said that fighter kites (in which the kites are tangled and cut) is the property right of Gujarat. “It’s a kind of patent,” she said.
A tremendous variety of kites are seen and the connoisseur can choose precisely what he wants. Experts specially prepare the lines with which the kites are flown on the great day.
Special mixtures of glue and ground glass cover the lines, which are dried and rolled onto rears known as firkees. So sharp are these lines that, carelessly used, they can cut a finger.
The excitement does not end with nightfall, which is the time for illuminated box kites, often in a series strung on one line, to be launched into the sky. Called tukals, they add a touch of splendour to the dark sky.
One of the sidelights of the festival is the Patang (Kite) Bazaar, which is open 24 hours a day in the heart of Ahmedabad during the Makar Sankranti week.
A visit to this bazaar in the middle of the night proves beyond all doubt that the entire population of the city is obsessed with patangs and they crowd the streets and buy their stocks while haggling and enjoying through the night.
People of all ages gather on terraces or rooftops and engage in kite flying. There is music in the air and traditional delicacies are especially prepared for this day.
The Gujarat State Tourism Corporation organizes an International Kite Festival every year and it’s a great time to visit to take in the sights, colours, sounds, hospitality, cuisine and culture of this vibrant state.