Festival of the month: International Kite Festival, Uttarayan, Gujarat

Kite reels for sale in Ahmedabad during the Kite Festival.
Image courtesy: ©Tom Robinson/Lonely Planet

Head to Ahmedabad for the largest kite festival in India and see the sky full of colourful kites of all sizes and shapes. It’s an unequalled experience.

The kite festival marks Uttarayan, when winter season starts changing to summer and farmers welcome the approaching harvest season. This is also celebrated as Makar Sankranti in other parts of India.

A range of kites
From 8th to 14th January, all kinds of kites take over the sky – single kites, single strings that fly tens of kites, large, complex creations that require a whole team to get up in the air, box kites, high-speed sport kites, windsocks and spinsocks, hand-painted artistic kites.

Held annually in January, it draws kite fliers from all over the world, along with tens of thousands of spectators who marvel at the intricate choreography of so many colourful kites. There is also plenty of room to buy a kite and take to the skies yourself and pick up tips from experts.

 

17 metre kite being flown at Uttarayan Kite Festival.
Kites of all shapes and sizes can be seen at the festival.
Image courtesy: ©Tom Robinson/Lonely Planet

Participations
Entire families with several generations take part in the festivities. Some enthusiasts prepare for this day for months, using elaborate designs that would have been passed down for generations. Some even have a favourite kite-maker. In Ahmedabad’s old city, Patang Bazaar’s kitemakers have been prepping for the event since November.

The Sabarmati riverfront is taken over by participants from the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Netherlands, Singapore, Turkey, Vietnam, Poland, Argentina and Brazil. Dolphins, tigers, colourful birds, dragons and an octopus have filled the sky in kite-form above Ahmedabad in the past years.

International kite flyers
The festival has seen kite-makers from Malaysia (with their wau-balang kites), Indonesia has brought their llayang-llayang, the Americans with giant banner kites, the Italians their sculptural kites, the Chinese their flying dragons and the Japanese with their rokkaku fighting kites. Look out for the skills of master kite-maker (and flyer) Rasulbhai Rahimbhai who flies a train of up to 500 kites on a single string.

How it started
Kites are believed to have first arrived in India either through Muslim traders travelling eastward through Persia or Buddhist pilgrims coming from China in search of sacred texts. Though Uttarayan is originally a special day of the Hindu calendar, it is said that the idea of flying kites to celebrate the date was a concept that arrived with Muslims from Persia, and it has now transcended all religious boundaries.

So what are you waiting for? Go get some fresh air at the kite fest.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Anuradha Sengupta is a freelance writer and founder-editor of Jalebi Ink, an award-winning media collective for children and youth. A compulsive city-walker, she loves exploring urban cultures and is a columnist for NY-based Karta, a collaborative urban mapping project. Her most memorable adventure was in Afghanistan as digital media advisor, setting up citizens' media centres.