The crisp morning sun of Ahmedabad pleasantly caressed me the moment I boarded off the bus. I clumsily clutched on to all my belongings and trailed after my group. The media badge dangling from our necks spoke of our privileged entry on the grounds of the International Kite Festival 2019 in Gujarat, the westernmost state of India. It was being held on an area of 2000 square feet at the sprawling western bank of the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad from 6th to 14th January 2019. It was 6th January. On the enormous stage, arrangements were made for the political dignitaries and the guests of honour who would inaugurate the festival. The kite flying zone was about approximately 150 metres away from the stage.
How the International Kite Festival came into being
The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is observed all over India and celebrated in different forms. In Punjab it is called Lohri, in West Bengal it is known as Poush Sankranti, in Assam as Bhogali Bihu, in Tamil Nadu as Pongal, in Bihar and Jharkhand as Sakraat and in Gujarat as Uttarayan. The ritual of flying kites on Uttarayan is dominant throughout Gujarat. Inspired by this practise, exactly 30 years ago in 1989 the Gujarat government started hosting the International Kite Festival. According to the estimate of 2018, Ahmedabad kite festival was thronged by 51,250 visitors daily. The International Kite Festival had been unaffected by the change of state governments in Gujarat over the years.
In 2019, 45 countries participated in the festival. A total of 151 master kite fliers from countries like Argentina, Chile, Tunisia, Italy etc graced the kite flying ground. Within India, 13 states with 105 kite fliers and within Gujarat 19 districts with 545 kite fliers participated. Apart from Ahmedabad, the festival is arranged in 8 different cities, viz, Kutch (Dhordo), Surat, Saputara, Rajkot, Porbander, Gandhidham, Amreli and Bhavnagar. The festival is expected to boost interest of people in kite flying. The kite making industry, which is largely unorganised, receives a spike in demand during this season as every household in Ahmedabad and other places of Gujarat engages in kite flying games on the occasion of Uttarayan.
Inaugration of International Kite Festival 2019 in Ahmedabad
I had hardly settled myself in on the white cloth draped chairs in the second row of the Media seating area when Kirtibhai, our esteemed guide, started sharing with us his knowledge of the festival. “In this festival arrangements are made so that children can interact with master kite fliers from India and abroad. They are taught basic principles of aerodynamics, a knowledge which goes a long way in learning kite flying. There is only one difference between the Indian kites and the foreign kites: Indian kites are fighter kites, they are made for competitive games which involves cutting the thread of other kites.”
The threads of fighter kites are coated with glass powder, popularly known as manja. The manja makes the threads tough and sharp. However, the sharpness of the threads can be fatal to birds. Even motorcyclists and bicyclists on roads are sometimes subjected to throat injury owing to these threads. Thankfully, the use of manja is banned on the International Kite Festival ground.
A convoy of cars interrupted our conversation with Kirtibhai. The stage was now occupied by ambassadors of 15 countries: Malaysia, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, etc who were the chief guests. Gujarat Governor OP Kohli in the presence of chief minister Vijaybhai Rupani kickstarted the festival. Clad in pink, 2000 school children performed Yoga. Soon after that participants made their formal entry on the ground with much pomp and show, holding high their respective country’s flags.
Interaction with participants at International Kite Festival 2019
The sky was soon speckled with pops of colours. The fun spirit on the kite ground was unmissable. The participants squinted while trying to focus their eyes under the glaring Sun, while their team members were busy sorting nylon strings. Some of these kites were extremely complicated, with a meshwork of threads holding them in shape. They came in all colours, shapes, sizes and characters. The kids were ecstatic on spotting Doraemon and Ganesha(from the cartoon series My Friend Ganesha). I watched a Sting Ray soaring in the sky. The kite in the shape of a Rubik’s Cube reminded me of Sayan, my better half, who can solve it in 50 seconds flat! I saw kite fliers struggling with a giant whale and a horse, trying hard to get them airborne.
Riya, a female participant, ran on the kite ground trying to fly her black round kite with colourful spikes on it. “We are here today. Tomorrow we will leave for Hyderabad to participate in the festival there,” she said.
As I stood watching the fanfare, a shadow engulfed me. I craned my neck. A giant black and green alien floated in the sky. The breeze flapped its limbs. At the end of its line stood a pale tall man. Paolo, in his broken English communicated to me that he has crafted this kite with the help of 20 people in 14 days. Wishing them luck, I moved on to the next set of kite fliers.
A cute inflated tiger grabbed my attention. Its forelimbs were stretched in a fashion as if saying hello to the audience as it hovered a few feet off the ground. I approached the smiling woman controlling the whims and fancies of this tiger. “My name is Kathleen, we are from Scotland. We purchased this kite from New Zealand. A kite like this would take 100 hours to be made,” Kathleen said.
The Tunisian team were talking among themselves when we heard them using the word tasveer— the Hindi word for photo. “Hey look we have a word in common,” my team mate cheered up. A round of back and forth explanations later, they, the Tunisians, and we, the Indians, bonded over the word tasveer, a word with same meaning in both languages.
I took a quick snack break in the stalls serving food, beverages and refreshments. There were many handicraft stalls selling everything from knick-knacks to exquisite embroidery work. A gallery was set up with walls decorated with kites. Before retreating to the hotel I turned back, one last time, to capture the scene the kites were painting on Ahmedabad sky.
Do you fly kite on Makar Sankranti? Have you been to the International Kite Festival in Gujarat? Comment below and let us know!
Disclaimer: Tania was hosted by Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited. All thoughts and opinions expressed in the post are of her own.
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