The festival of Uttarayan is a uniquely Gujarati phenomenon, when the skies over most cities of the state fill with kites from before dawn until well after dark. The festival marks the days in the Hindu calendar when winter begins turning to summer, known as Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan. On what is usually a bright warm sunny day with brisk breezes to lift the kites aloft, across the state almost all normal activity is shut down and everyone takes to the rooftops and roadways to fly kites and compete with their neighbors.
Kites of all shapes and sizes are flown, and the main competition is to battle nearby kite-flyers to cut their strings and bring down their kites. For this, people find their favored kite-makers who prepare strong resilient kite bodies with springy bamboo frames and kite-paper stretched to exactly the right tension. Lastly, the kites are attached to a spool (or firkin) of manja, special kite-string coated with a mixture of glue and glass to be as sharp as possible for cutting strings of rival kites. Production of kites and kite supplies can be seen on the streets of Ahmedabad beginning in November, to get ready for Uttarayan, and nowhere more so than in Patang Bazaar, the special kite market that appears in the old city. For the week preceding the festival, it is open 24 hours a day for all kite lovers to stock up for the festivities.
Uttarayan is celebrated every year on 14th January, known as Makar Sankranti in other parts of north India, and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, and continues on the 15th.
Uttarayan is celebrated across Gujarat, with major centers of kite-flying in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Nadiad, among others. The International Kite Festival is held in Ahmedabad. For information on how to get here for the festival, see the ‘Tourism Hubs’ pages for the place you want to fly your kites this year.
Kites are believed to have first arrived in India either through Muslim traders coming eastward through Persia or Buddhist pilgrims coming from China in search of sacred texts. Either way, they have a long history in the region. Over 1000 years ago, kites were mentioned in song by the composer Santnambe, and numerous classic miniature paintings of typical scenes in the area depict people flying kites. Since Gujarat is at the westernmost edge of India, it is one of the regions where Muslim and Hindu cultures have blended to a great degree in many aspects. Hence, the development of using kites, probably brought by Muslims, to celebrate Uttarayan, a Hindu festival. Still, no one knows exactly when this tradition began.
Disclaimer: You are requested to check the exact dates with Gujarat Tourism Online office before finalising your travel plans for this festival.
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