From January 14-18 2006 the skies above the city of Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, will be filled with darting flecks of colour. Tens of thousands of kites take to the sky in the festival of Uttarayan.
Scores of kite flyers from India and about 65 invited guest flyers from abroad, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, China, Japan, Lebanon, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Israel, Malaysia, Belgium and Australia, are participating in a special flying event in Ahmedabad.
Regarded as the largest kite festival in the world, the event sprawls across the city of Ahmedabad as thousands of local kite fliers take to rooftops to engage in battle with one another for supremacy of a section of sky.
The Times of India quotes visiting Israeli kiter Ralph Resnik as saying: "Ahmedabad is the heart and the home of fighter kiting. It is something you have to experience. It looks like a ticker-tape parade on the streets of New York except, all the confetti is suspended."
Another festival in Jaipur, state of Rajasthan, will feature flying on the palace grounds in Jaipur under the watchful eye of Jaipur's royal family.
Kite flyers take to the rooftops, streets, vacant lots, and railway tracks - anywhere that there is an open space to permit kiters to raise their kites and engage in battle. This can be dangerous as the flyer is usually looking skyward and does not always attend to the edge of the rooftop or the traffic conditions in the street. Newspapers run daily notices advising people to avoid power lines with their kites and strings, yet stories of young fliers receiving burns while removing kites from power lines are frequent.
One unusual aspect of the festival is betting on kite battles. So called professional kite fliers have followings of people who wager on their kite fighting prowess. The 'Kanpur Times' section of The Times of India reports:
"While kite flying clubs in the city organise competitions round the year, it's specially at festival time that most members participate in the competitions, thanks to the large scale betting involved. Most of the professional kite flyers gather in big grounds during the festive period and heavy amounts of money are on stake," informs businessman and a professional kite flyer Abhishek Mehra. Even amateur kite flyers are attracted to these kite flying competitions or kite fights, as they are called, because of the lure of big bucks. "Getting involved in kite fights is interesting for me not because I'm good at it but because I'm hoping to multiply my money this way," says Manish Agarwal, a dry fruit merchant.
In addition to being a major festival and holiday, the event puts a good deal of money into the hands of kite builders during this intense period of kite flying. Not only are skilled kite artisans plying their kites in shops all around the region, but large numbers of children and teenagers work alongside adult kite makers to manufacture millions of kite strings ahead of this kite-flying festival. The youngsters earn about one dollar for a twelve hour work day. In addition to local youth about 300 young people from neighbouring provinces trek to Ahmedabad to engage in this work and make some much needed money for their families.
While most kite sales are to individual kite fliers, this year there is a trend toward bulk orders of "corporate kites" that advertise the products of various companies or services in India. Corporate clients place large bulk orders for kites imprinted with logos or product photos and then give them away as sales promotions. This has added significant cash flow to some of the larger kite making firms that specialize in Indian kites for both the export and local markets.
Globalization has also come to the Indian kite market. Chinese kites made of plastic have been introduced this year to compete with the beautifully crafted paper kites of India. These kites are generally more expensive than the Indian made kites. In addition, they are of the "single line" stable kite variety and fly in a more or less static manner. Traditional Indian kites are made to be highly maneuverable at fast speeds and are well suited to the traditional kite battles that take place in the skies above the towns and cities.
More details can be found in the following stories from Indian news media:
- Gujarat's Kite Fest Gets Underway - The Hindu News Update Service
- Flying Kites the Royal Way - IBN Live
- Twin Cities in Grip of Festival Fever - The Times of India
- Gujarat's Spectacular Kite Festival Gets Underway - NewKerala.com
- Child Labourers Gear Up for Rahasthan's Kite Festival - The Hindustan Times
- All Set for the Sky Battle in Ahmedabad - The Times of India
- Kite Fliers Risk Life for Sport - Ludhiana Newsline
- Kitemakers Fly High on Whopping Sales - Mid-Day.com
- Boy Suffers Burns While Removing Kite from High-Tension Wires - The Hindu: Andhra Pradesh
- Higher Stakes on High Flyers - Kanpur Times Section of The Times of India
- Special thanks to Vaino Raun of the Niagara Windriders Kitefliers Association for information relating to this article. Vaino is a much travelled, skilled and knowledgeable kite builder and flyer who readily shares his knowledge and insights with any who ask. Thanks, Vaino!
- KiteLines Magazine - Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 1989. Articles on "India's Annual Kite Fenzy".
- "Kites Over Ahmedabad" - Article and Illustrations by George Peters. Pages 42-45.
- "Kites of Makar Sankranti" - Article by Philip Morrison, photographs by Setu and Parthiv Shah. Pages 46-49.
Uttarayn Celebration in Clarksville, Tenn. U.S.A.:
Clarksville, Tennessee held a kite festival on Saturday, January 14, 2006 to celebrate the Indian festival of Uttarayan. The Leaf-Chronicle newspaper of Clarksville reports:
"Bright blue skies over Fairgrounds Park were filled Saturday with a colorful Indian tradition.
About 150 members of the Clarksville-Hopkinsville, Ky., community of Indians gathered to observe Uttarayan — a predominantly Hindu-celebrated kite festival held for thousands of years to mark the decline of winter and the promise of spring."
This was the first time that Uttarayan had been celebrated in Clarksville and it clearly was a representation of the blending of two cultures for the participants:
"Event organizers for Saturday's celebration imported about 600 kites and 20 rolls of kite string, which is coated with a special glue made from glass powder and rice paste.
Saturday's celebration featured a meal of traditional Gujaratian cuisine.
As Mayur Mehta watched the kites frolicking in the steady breeze, he smiled when he noticed the backdrop — a subtle reminder of two cultures entwined.
"There's an American flag, right there in front of us," he said."
For the full story and photos visit the article by reporter Heather Donahoe in The Leaf-Chronicle newspaper.