The city of Jaipur, known as the Pink City of India, identifies itself with the art of kite-flying.
The city, founded by astronomer prince Sawai Jai Singh in 1727, is also a major centre for making these colourful “flying objects”. Though kites dot the Jaipur skyline through the year, kite-flying activity reaches a frenzied pitch in Spring, starting from Makara Sankaranti which is on January 14.
The public grounds, rooftops and every open space available turn into an arena for the kite flyers and patang baaz (experts in cutting others' kites). The children play a multiple role in the theatrics of kite-flying as handlers of charkhi (the wheel from which the string is slowly loosened), the kite runners (as in the Afghanistan-based novel, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini) and the flyers themselves.
Though the tradition of kite-flying in the city goes back to hundreds of years, the prevailing standards in kite-flying, kite making and in patang baazi (kite-flying competitions) were set in Jaipur and the surrounding areas during the time of Sawai Ram Singh II (1835-1880). “It was Sawai Ram Singh II who promoted kite-flying in the former Jaipur State in a big way. He invited expert kite makers from Agra. Those skilled making maanjha (thread) were brought from Bareli. They were settled in the Ramganj Bazar area of the city,” observes noted historian Chandramani Singh.
“Some 17th century paintings of Jaipur show the members of the royal family flying kites. The paintings show the womenfolk in the zenana (the ladies' quarters in the palace) also indulging in the popular past-time,” Dr. Singh says.
“The nucleus of kite making in Rajasthan is the Patangwalon Ka Mohalla in the Walled City. Work on kites takes place round the year. The activity provides income to thousands of households,” says Iqbal Khan, a scribe.
“Not only Jaipur but also the surrounding districts like Dausa, Sawai Madhopur and Karauli which were under the former Jaipur State, have the tradition of kite-flying. A well-to-do family in Dausa, my hometown, would spend Rs. 25,000 to 30,000 a season on kites,” R.P. Sharma, an avid flyer of yesteryear, says.
“The rooftops are still there but the open grounds are fast vanishing,” says Babu Bhai, an expert kite maker.