Ahmedabad: Uttarayan Eve 2009

There are kites, and there is kite flying and then there is the Uttarayan festival in Ahmedabad. 14th January is celebrated by Hindus across the country as Makar Sankranti. Gujaratis call this Uttarayan; this is the day when the Sun starts its travel towards north in celestial sphere. In Gujarat Uttarayan is marked by day-long kite flying by millions of people there.

 

As I drove from the airport to the city on 12th January, enough posters and signages were visible along the way talking about the just concluded International Kite Festival. This attracts hundreds of kite flying enthusiasts from all over the globe flying kites of different shapes and sizes. Since I had missed watching this competition, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity I had as my trip to Ahmedabad coincided with Uttarayan.

 

Sponsored by Airtel

Sponsored by Airtel...?

 

 

 And the first step was a visit to a prominent kite market, Raipur, the evening before the D-Day to window-shop for kites.

 

Raipur Kite Market:

 

This narrow road, barely half-a-km long, was choc-a-bloc at 5 in the evening. And we were told that we had not seen anything yet, the bulk of the business happens after 9pm and all the way to 2 am!

 

Crowds at Raipur Market

Crowds at Raipur Market

 

 

A Kite Shop

A Kite Shop

Hundreds and hundreds of shops selling kites, phirki and manjha. And lots and lots of accessories. More about these, later. First, the kites.

 

Kites:

 

Raipur that day was THE supermarket for kites. Millions and millions of them in all colours, shapes and sizes. I was told that an average family would buy upto 100 kites for this day! Assuming 5 lakh families fly kites on Uttarayan – I am making a very rough estimate here – the “consumption” of kites would be something like 5 crore kites in one single day! Maybe I have made insanely erroneous estimates, but one stroll down the Raipur market street is enough to convince you that this city LOVES kite-flying!

 

Kites in the regular diamond shape in a multitude of colours. And in multiple sizes. And multiple shapes as well, including a round kite, a kite-shaped kite, and other assorted shapes.

 

Seen a larger Kite?

Seen a larger Kite?

 

 

...or a black kite with tassles?

...or a black kite with tassles?

The Circular Kite...

The Circular Kite...

If you are a film buff, shop for “Singh is Kingg”, or Salman or Shahrukh or the large tall Rani Mukherjee kite.

 

Thoda filmy ho jai....!

Thoda filmy ho jai....!

 

 

Pari hoon mein...ya Rani?

Pari hoon mein...ya Rani?

Kite kite....!

Kite kite....!

 

And choose from a large range of phirkis. Hanging in clusters from shop fronts. All made of plastic. I wonder what happened to the wooden ones which we used as kids.

Phirkian-hi-Phirkian

Phirkian-hi-Phirkian

 

 

 

Manjha:

 

In the bylanes one could see the manjha-wallahs furiously at work giving kilometers and kilometers of thread their murderous edge.

 

For those who do not know, manjha is cotton thread used for flying the kites. The thread is coated with glass powder with the help of glue and the glass is what gives the thread the sharpness to “cut” other kites. A good quality manjha will make the difference between two dueling kites in the air (besides, of course, the skill of the kite flyer). For good measure, the manjha mixture is tinted pink to give the thread its sinister, or festive look. Depends how you look at it!

 

Occasionally manjha not only cuts kites but also injures birds. The manjha freely falling kite which has been cut is known to slit throats of unsuspecting cyclists on the ground.

The manjha applicator moves

The manjha applicator moves

 

 

The thread moves... (Method 2)

The thread moves... (Method 2)

 

The manjha application is a fascinating process and surprisingly quick. I could figure out two broad methods of manjha coating, thread moving and manjha applicator stationery and manjha artist moving and the thread stationery. I am no expert in manjha matters, so I have no idea which process is better.

 

This is how it starts....

This is how it starts....

 

..but the effect is gorgeous.

..but the effect is gorgeous.

Accessories:

The accessories collection add colour to the market place. What accessories, you say, once you have bought the kite and the phirki and the manjha. Those are only the basics. What about finger-gloves to protect your fingers from your own manjha? And caps and goggles to protect you in the sun? And binoculars to keep a track of the goings-on in the sky? Sun burn lotions, adhesive plasters for protection and even an assortment of masks to add to the festive spirit, the possibilities are many!

 

A basketful of accessories

A basketful of accessories

 

 

And my favourite pic of an accessory

And my favourite pic of an accessory

As I was returning from the Raipur market that evening I was wondering what the atmosphere would be like on the D-Day! I was not disappointed, to say the least. But that is the stuff for another post….

 

Postscript:

But not all were kite-flying….

Gujaratis, being what they are, were also doing serious business on the side. Uttarayan is the time when the Gujarat government organizes the “Vibrant Gujarat” symposium which attracts leading industrialist and investors from across the globe. The Ambanis, the Tatas, the Mittals; you name them and they were all there! Making huge investment commitments to the state.

 

Here is the front page of Time of India, Ahmedabad edition that morning.

TOI Headline on 13th January morning

TOI Headline on 13th January morning

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8 Responses to Ahmedabad: Uttarayan Eve 2009

  1. Sridhar Ranganathan says:

    Just wonderful. You have captured it so well. I enjoyed reading every bit as much as I enjoyed being part of all these that day. I never thought that the celebration would be of this magnitude. You have brought life to the artice with appropriate pictures as well.

    Waiting for the next article on this…

  2. Prasad C.Naik says:

    The spirit of Makar Sankranti,Kites,Uttarayan is very well captured by words & through the eye of your lens. Ahmedabad during Uttarayan is to be seen to be believed & no where else other than Gujarat ,this festival may be celebrated with such fervor and scale.
    I have visited your bolg for the 1st time,as I came to know about it only today…..and its interesting to see what you have written.
    Keep flying the Kites of your writings with the same fervor.

  3. Amit Das says:

    Ah Santosh..You made my day..I am a Kite flying buff and I continued the same in Bangalore as well..Somehow managed to find a small shop in Jayanagar-Complex selling kites and Manjha and with some Gujarati families celebrated Uttrayan on my terrace. Probably the only Kites of Bangalore were flying in Koramangala area..

    When I was in Ahmedabad it used to be week long preparation before Jan 14th and celebrations used to continue for 3- 4 days after Uttrayan..Buying Patang ( Kite )from a place called “Tangsaal” and getting Manjha prepared from Delhi Darwaja…Hitting terrace at 4 am, taking best of the Music system with mike on terrace ( in Gujarati Called Dhaba).. and later on during college days, inviting good looking girl friends to make the event more colourful..Entire atmosphere and mood used be so colourful and filled with excitment..screams of “Kaypo Che” and “Lapet” after cutting some else’s kite are still so fresh in my memories..Mom used to serve everything on terrace, b/fast, lunch, till gud and special dish “Undhiyun”, kind of mix vegetable delicacy..Undhiyun was even served by neighbours and friends..Great days…

    Couple of adds from my memories : 1. International kite flying festival organized in Police Stadium, not sure if the same continues..I remember every time the winner used to be Firang..it used to be a treat to watch..Someone flying 100 kites together..Kite almost of the aircraft size etc..2. The celebrations continue on Uttrayan day even after sunset..the sky would to be full of “Tukkals or Candils”, these are lamps/candles placed in Paper cover. These lighted lamps are tied to the Manjha..great fun..you can see some kites in night flying with one Tukkal or even 50 tuckers in one kite Not to forget fights because someone in disguise will try to cut kites flying with Lamps..
    3. History of Ahmedabad says…moderate to low wind on Uttrayan day and good wind/breeze appropriate for flying Kite on Basi Uttrayan ( the day after Uttrayan), This time also I called my friends and they said wind was not enough on Uttrayan day..
    4. Though lot of gloves and accessories are available in market to protect fingers but the real fun of flying Kite is with bare hands and I remember during childhood we used to count the cuts in finger on reaching school..obviously someone with more cuts is supposed to be the Badsaah of kite flying….I can go on and on…..One thing for sure..next year I will be in Ahmedabad for Uttrayan with family..my daughter is so fond of Kite flying, she only forced me to get into extensive search drive for Patang in Bangalore..Thanx once again Santosh. Amit Das

  4. Dr.Seema says:

    Was looking forward to this piece and was wondering when it would be written….here it is….great reading as usual! 🙂

  5. Manish says:

    Hey santosh
    lovely capture of this unique and colourful festival in ahmedabad. am glad you inserted the images to really express what you saw because the colours would be incomplete while describing this festival without photos….
    Uttrayan is one occasion which i distinctly remember from our childhood that we would wait for. and the eve before the big day used to be a very special day as well. buying the kites, choosing them…there is a art to it…..and the whole night collect at a friends place and tie the thread (kenias) which is a unique occasion itself. it was like a jagran and absolutely rocking night….also set up the terrace,,, clean it up…set the music system …arrange for the sitting arrangements…drinks…..(yes you imagined it right)……amazing memories……and the night of the uttrayan is also terrific when we collect at another terrace and fly the lantern kites…(tukkal)…this is another amazing stuff….its a whole turn key project …..people selecting the right kite for that……preparing the lanterns….checking the wind….making sure there are no kites around to cut yours …..infact a few escort kites are flown alongside to make sure any intruders are checked before they touch the main lantern kite…..
    and when one after the other the lanterns are places at certain intervals…(some of them burn out and if we are not careful it burns the thread and the kite goes away floating before you know it)……. its a fantastic site to watch these multiple lanterns…..

  6. Dharmesh Shah says:

    Dear Sir,
    It is really awesome and catchy report for any Indian. But if take it for Guajarati, it is quite normal for any individual as any Gujarati is live witness since he/she start understanding the world.
    For me it is really envoy report, as in my 40 years of life this was the first Uttrayan I missed as I am at US. I just tried to oversight the day and memory but you made me cry seeing all pictures and your thoughts on Gujarat’s Uttrayan. I am really missing it.
    As the comment of Mr.Amit has already explained the intensity of this festival and involvement of Gujarati, let me also through some of my views on it.
    As always any kids of major city of Gujarat start flying kites since last week of December from their old stock of Patang and Manja, he also make it sure that all these things gets exhausted by Jan 12-13th. Elderly or young people do their net practice in weekends and after coming back from their job in the evening during week days.
    For 2 days that is 14th and 15th people start its preparation by 1st week of January. They give order to manja makers well in advance to make best manjo. Kites also are being bought by people fitting to their style of flying kites and some reserved kites for condition like less wind. Out of these whole lot people preserve 2-3 very good kites (which are stable in the air after flying) for evening/night session of gubbaras. Now these gubbaras are candle in the box or even series of lights/tube light people fly along with kite. This really attracts people to remain on the terrace even after sun is set. And during the day when kites are being fly people are thrilled to fight with other kites in the sky and try to cut. Some good kite flyers like me can even cut 20-25 other kites with one single of mine. Here the skill of person, kite and manjo all works to gather and combination will make that individual happy. Passion remains on the top of all these to become king of sky on that day.
    Special food for this day is Undhiyu, Jalebi, Sev for lunch and dinner. Sugercane, Berries and Chiki for snack during the day. Undhiyu is really testy dish, full of mix vegetable and oil, love to eat it.
    People cut their finger with strong and full of glass powder manjo that is a part of this festival. No doubts now people wear finger caps to protect their fingers. Some times people while travelling on the street got their neck or hands cut with manjo, so one has to be cautious while walking or riding during Uttrayan in Gujarat.
    So these two days 14th and 15th of January are full of joy and happiness for Gujarati. People rise early in the morning reach on the terrace since 5.30 in the morning till late night. Not to mentioned that almost all takes their food also on the terrace.
    Now since last 5-6 years our beloved and strong CM has made this event more productive and interesting under the banner of Vibrant Gujart. And every body in Guajart knows his foresightedness and people friendly tactics. That is the reason even in this bad economic situation big and giant business people are ready to invest in Guajrat as Mr.Modi offers red carpet to them. We all love and respect our CM.

    One cannot imagine the magnitude and enjoyment of Uttarayan unless he/she remain in Gujarat for 14th and 15th January. Let me also mention that Amdavad, Baroda, Surat, Bharuch, Ankleshwar, Navsari, Vlasad, Vapi, Godhara, Dahod are some major towns where intensity of this festival remains in full mood.
    Just plan your next Uttrayan in Gujarat……………………..

  7. santoshojha says:

    Sridhar and Prasad: That walk down the Raipur street was fun, wasn’t it!

    Seema: Thanks for your encouraging remarks, as always.

    Amit, Manish and Dharmesh: Thanks for the detailed descriptions of the festival. This is a case where the comments are a lot more interesting and informative as compared with the post. And you described the festival way better than I ever could!

  8. Ephraim Meyer says:

    Hi,
    I live in Israel but came as a young kid from Calcutta.

    Dharmesh, I had the privilege to listen to your Mr.Modi an he is truly an impressing persona.

    I was in Ahmedabad this January 2009 at the International kite festival, and this visit back to India to fly kites most of the time was a fantastic experience.
    The 14th January was full of exciting experiences for me, but during the whole day there was nearly no wind.
    This was especially felt at night since there were very very few tukkals in the sky.

    Visiting the kite markets was exactly as described, but the real experience is to watch, listen and feel all the electricity in the air!!!
    The kite market next to the Delhi gate was really packed during most of the week, and on the 13th January night, quite a number of shops had sold all their kites and manjha quite early in the evening.

    I am looking forward to the festival next year and hope to attend again.

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