A Little bit about Kite Flying, Makar Sankranti – India’s Harvest Festival

Its the start of the harvest season. Summer will soon be arriving and India explodes into a number of festivals all around the same day – January 14th or the Winter Solstice! Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra & other states, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Lohri in Punjab, Bhogali Bihu in Assam and so many more festivals on this occasion. After all India is an agrarian country & harvest festival gets its due.

Being a Gujarati, Uttarayan is all about flying kites. I will call myself a pro kite flyer because it hardly ever gets tested & because compared to all my urban friends, I am. 😀

I haven’t flown kites in years. Its always a tricky business first finding a empty expanse of sky in an urban metro and the right kind of wind that aids kite-flying. Once the kite starts flying its a lot of fun. It can be very harmful to birds however, the thread line or ‘manja’ that we use to maneuver the kite is treated with little broken pieces of glass to make it very sharp and sturdy.  In fact, a sign of good kite flying are, numerous scars in the nooks and crannies of your fingers. Despite precautions like tapes and gloves, inevitably the thread will slice through all of it and cut your fingers. In the fun of the game the pain gets forgotten. Similarly the thread cuts through any birds it comes across and that is so sad, cause these birds don’t know that its no-fly day on Makar Sankranti! There are also rare cases where, unsuspecting kids get their throats cut by the kite thread. Yes there are dangers to these celebrations.

Makar Sankranti
Manja being prepared – sharp as glass and colorful for the celebrations (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Truly though you should try your hand at kite flying, its brilliant. Feeling the wind tugging your kite high up in the sky through the furious & sharp manja in your hands – is really a thrilling lesson in aerodynamics!

One of the major highlights of kite-flying is supposed to be when your kite manja and another manja get entangled with each other somewhere up in the sky. The sharper manja and skilled flyer will cut the other manja clean. This is like a competition and the one to win yells some very typical things like ‘kai po che or lappet’ in Gujarati. Hehe

Sadly I haven’t experienced enough of these fights to became a pro at them. I have gotten into such competitions only two or three times. The first few times I didn’t even realise it happened – cause the manja is way up in the sky – you can’t ‘see’ the two lines come together. You need to feel that slight tug in the manja in your hand. The third time I felt the tug but I had no idea what to do. Either you have to pull the manja down furiously so that is slices through the other manja or you leave it lose so the wind furiously carries it forward thus increasing its speed and deadliness. You need to judge the wind situation well and have to respond in a split second or you will be left with a limp thread in your hand with your kite cut off from it!

Looking forward to a Makar Sankranti where I can be part of some serious kiting! Let’s see when I can make it to some appropriate place probably in Gujarat and to really see the dozens of kites dotting the skies.

At night the tradition is to send out lamps into the sky. Light lamps sent out into the sky over kite ropes, I want to see those as well! This just became another bucketlist post 😀

Some pictures from a few years back. At Hamara Footpath – a street school, we took the street kids for a kite flying session at the nearby beach. No serious flying because the wind wasn’t great, the manja was a kiddy version and just too many excited kids running about 🙂

Great fun!

Kite Flying with Kids
Kiddy Manjas
Kite Flying with Kids
Gimme a kite please!
Kite Flying with Kids
Kite Flying with Kids
Finally one kite a-flying!
Kite Flying with Kids
This kite is too big for me!
Kite Flying with Kids
Pro kite flyer (me) in action 😀