Note: Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the festival celebration in Gujarat remains suspended until further notice.
The exceptionally vibrant and a cauldron of numerous cultures and sub-cultures, state of Gujarat gets soaked in the whole new burst of hues during the International Kite Festival every year when the place erupts in a unique enthusiasm. Every shop, every office and every other normal activity is completely shut down as the locals take to rooftops, roads and open spaces to celebrate Uttarayan or Makar Sakranti to fly kite and fiercely compete with their neighbors. Children, who would make so many excuses to rise up the school every day would be found wide awake and soaring their kites high into the sky early morning on this day. Such is the atmosphere on Uttarayan in Gujarat.
The festival of Uttrayan is one of the most important occasions for Indians. This day marks the change of winter season in to summers and signifies harvesting season for the farmers. Uttarayan is one of the most eagerly awaited festivals and is celebrated with much fervor and enthusiasm within the Gujarat community while many visitors from across the world come especially during this time to witness and participate in the rabid festivities.
History of the International Kite Festival
The art or hobby of kite flying was developed over the period of time in India and it was taken over as a major sport by kings and royalty and then by the Nawabs, who found it highly entertaining and as a means to compete and display their strength. As it grew, kite flying became a serious game with many different types of kites began to be made and with special strings to compete viciously. Expert kite makers and kite flyers from India and across the globe were invited or hired to show their skills and expertise in their art of kite flying and beat their competitors at any cost.
But precisely how and when the tradition of kite flying began is still obscure. Some sources suggest that they were introduced by Muslim traders who arrived from Persia while simultaneously Chinese traders and pilgrims also brought in the tradition coming in from Tibet. But nevertheless it seems that the practice already existed in India much before and there are sundry references to kite flying in historical bards, writings and other folklore. Since Gujarat has been a stop-over and center of much of the trading activity and an amazing place for the blending of Hindu and Muslim cultures, kite flying is taken and celebrated with much enthusiasm, which has now been taken as the observance of the Hindu Uttarayan festival.
Celebration of International Kite Festival
The International Kite Festival is one of the major day of festivity in Gujarat and is a much awaited event. As the day is also considered sacred according to Hindu tradition, preparations and celebrations begin early. People wake up early in the morning before sunrise and arrangements starts in the kitchen for the making of delectable Gujarati dishes like ladoo, undhyu or surati jamun which are ceremonially prepared and eaten on this day. Most of the children and male adults hop on to their rooftops to fly the kites and take advantage of the favorable morning breeze. People gather in small groups on theirs or on their friends’ rooftops to find optimum terrace for kite flying, making it a collective activity to celebrate together.
Kites of all shapes and sizes are flown and far from a friendly competition, for many, it becomes almost a battle mid-air. Many days before the festival, people find their favorite kite makers who prepare strong, resilient kites as well as specially prepared strings called Manjha, which is a combination of glue and glass over the fiber to make it as sharp as possible to cut other strings of rival kites. Production and supplies of kites begin as early as November and being to appear in different markets across Gujarat. But nowhere else the sale and purchase of kites is as intense as in the Patang Bazar, a specially appearing kite market in old city. It even remains open throughout 24 hours, about a week before the festival. Although, it is Ahmedabad which hosts the International Kite Festival, the occasion is especially celebrated with great zeal in the cities of Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot and Nadiad and also in the towns of other states like Jaipur, Udaipur, and Jodhpur etc.
The excitement does not get over even after the long day of celebration and as soon as the night falls, people attach lighted paper lanterns called tukkals to the kite strings which shine throughout the night looking truly spectacular. Over the period of time, many new innovations and additions in the festival were added with numerous different kinds of kites being flown and kite experts coming from many different countries as well as festival being celebrated in other countries as well. Some of the highlights of the festival that have delighted the visitors is the kite of a master kite maker Rasulbhai Rahimbhai of Ahmedabad whose 500 kites on a single string remains a top attraction. Almost every different type of kites from box kites to windsocs and from high speed sport kites to hand painted artistic kites can be seen flying over Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad.
How to Reach
Sardar Vallabhai Patel international airport provides excellent air facilities for both domestic and international flights. Being a major destination, the airport is connected to all major destinations inside India like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai etc. and there are numerous regular flights from these locations. Besides, there are direct flights to and from UK and USA operated by Air India.
Ahmedabad, being a major station is well-connected to other parts of the country through railway lines and there are regular trains from major cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. The railway station is located about 6 kilometers from the city center and there are many buses, rickshaws and taxis to take you to the International Kite Festival.
The roads are in and around Gujarat are in excellent condition and are well-maintained. The city of Ahmedabad, being the capital city is linked through impressive to vital towns and cities like Surat, Pune, Mumbai, Shirdi, Udaipur, Bhavnagar and Gandhinagar are well connected to Ahmedabad.