It was exciting being in midst of all these festivities, seeing the kites soar, blanketing the crisp winter sky in colourful specs.
The significance of Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan)
Unlike other Hindu festivals which follow the lunar motion, Makar Sankranti follows the movement of the sun. It marks the beginning of the sun’s transition into the zodiac of Capricorn (Makar=Capricorn, Sankranti= transition). This makes it the only festival to fall on a fixed date every year – January 14th.
This is the day winter officially ends and spring begins – a transition symbolic of discarding the previous season’s bad and the beginning of a fresh new season.
Uttarayan is synonymous with kite flying.The night before the main Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan) day, markets are choc-a-bloc with people. They are all selecting their stash for kite flying the next day.
Mobile kite vendors like this boy have to carry the kites on their heads, for the fear of them being trampled otherwise. There isn’t any other safe way to roam around with them.All sorts of colourful shiny toys act as accompaniments to the kites! The atmosphere is not short of a carnival. Festivities are in the air!
Of course, the Bollywood stars are ubiquitous! People will literally take them soaring to the skies!The kite flying is by no means a friendly pass time that people indulge in for Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan). Some closely fought contests take place mid air. Save your kite and bring the other person’s down is the name of the game.
Which is why kites have to be bought in large numbers.
Making of the manjha
manjha is the thread tied to the kites. It is made by specific communities. Each colour stands for a specific community. It is not just a regular thread. manjha is coated with powdered glass, making it extremely sharp.Kite fliers are aware of this. The expert ones always take proper precautions. Their fingers are heavily bandaged before the start of kite flying.
Food – important to any Indian festival.
In Gujarat, a special winter vegetable called undhiyo is the specialty of the day. It’s a preparation of several beans, roots and other local seasonal vegetables.
Then there are the twisted and crooked orange spirals called jalebee.Their explosive sweetness is a perfect accompaniment to the rustic goodness of the undhiyo.We had the privilege of visiting a hundred year old jalebee joint. Even at the rush hour, they let us peek into their kitchens and click a few photos.
The smooth flowing batter is first fried in the shape of these spirals. The fiery golden discs are then instantly dunked in sugar syrup. What results is a melt-in-your mouth sweet heaven.
Jalebees are not for the mild hearted, mind you! They are desserts meant for the hard core sugar lover!
Kite flying, a team sport!
After a hearty breakfast, every body gets on the rooftops. Kite flying is a family event. Entire families gather together on the terraces, roofs or any other part of their house exposed to the sky.
Those not busy flying are busy in preparing the kites. Getting the tension on its skeleton right, is the key to the strength of the kite. The positioning of the holes to insert the manjha will decide the flight angle and it’s trajectory.
All of these technicalities, make kite flying a team event.An expert prepares the kites. Another one rolls out the manjha for the flier. The co ordination between the flier and the one rolling out the manjha is also very important.
Rolling-out and pulling-in of the manjha has to go in sync with the kind of contest your kite has got into, in the skies.
The contests among the kites
The contests are very intensely fought. It requires a lot of concentration to not lose sight of your kite. Controlling the flight and motion of the kite so high up, is no easy task.