Kite flying during Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan is an important part of the celebrations. One of the reasons is that as it is a time of thanksgiving, it is also a time to be happy. Letting your kite fly high, up to the heavens, is a sign for the gods to wake up as it is believed that they have slumbered for the past six months.

Makar Sankranti also heralds the change of season. The clear, blue skies and cool breeze are ideal to allow the kites to sail upwards.

If you are in any part of Gujarat at this time of the year, look up at the sky. From dawn to dusk you will see kites of different colours and hues, sizes and shapes fill the sky. This is a part of the celebration of Uttarayan, when winter comes to a close and summer begins. From November preparations are made for the production of kites and those interested in making their own kites, find all their requirements in the stalls and street corners. Kids are up at the crack of dawn so that they can catch the ideal pre-dawn wind to fly their kites. It is a great celebration of Indian culture as families gather on rooftops with special food and sweets and groups of friends and neighbours drop in to visit and exchange notes on kite flying.

Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL) promise was that this year’s festival will be bigger and better, because this is the 25th year of the International Kite Festival in Ahmedabad. More than 150 kite flyers from across the world came over to participate.

“This year, the International Kite Festival includes other activities apart from kite flying. There will be a light and sound show, workshops and training on kite making among others,” said an official at TCGL. It will also hold a separate pavilion to showcase the history and significance of kites to introduce people to the subject. Kite makers demonstrated their art,” said an official.

TGCL also plans to showcase the traditional Gujarati way of celebrating the kite festival to those visiting the city. “The best way to do this is to take foreign kite flyers to the inner city and let them watch for themselves how Ahmedabad enjoys kite flying on January 14,” the official said.

A little history

It is believed that kites first flew roughly 2800 years ago in China. This is because the materials required – silk fabric, high tensile strength silk for flying line, and resilient bamboo, were easily available.

Mozi and Lu Ban, two Chinese philosophers of the 5th century, are credited with the invention of the kite.

By 540 AD, paper kites were being flown. It has been recorded that around this time a paper kite was flown as an SOS. According to ancient Chinese texts, kites were used to measure distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signalling and communication for military operations.

The earliest kites were flat and most often rectangular. Kites were decorated with mythological motifs and legendary figures, and even strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying.

In time, the kite made its way to India. It further evolved into the fighter kite known as the patang.

Kites began to travel to Polynesia and New Zealand. However, they made their appearance in Europe much later. Stories of kites were brought to Europe by Marco Polo towards the end of the 13th century.