Come Independence Day and the markets are flooded with kites. The sky looks like an ocean swarming with tiny tadpoles swimming across from one place to the other. Colourful tadpoles, though!
Although kite flying has been popular in India for hundreds of years, historians believe that kite flying originated in China almost 3,000 years ago. There are many stories, which talk about the origin of kites. One of them goes like this:
There was a king in China who asked his army men to tie him to a kite and fly him off to the enemy’s territory. The moment he reached above enemy territory, he shouted out that if anyone came out of their palace they would be killed.
Hearing this “voice from above” all the soldiers ran away and there was no one to fight the next day. Many other myths exist but that’s not surprising since people in nearly half the countries on this earth fly kites.
The earliest kites were made from bamboo and silk. Now they are made with thin paper, plastic, cotton, silk and many other materials. Various kite-flying organisations all over the world organise festivals to create a strong kite flying community.
The most recent festival was held in Indonesia last month wherein teams from Japan, China and Thailand participated.
In India, one can get kites throughout the year but there are certain months when kite flying is especially popular. For example, in August, during the festivals of Raksha-Bandhan and Teej, and in January on Makar Sankranti, they are sold in large numbers.
Makar Sankranti marks the end of a long winter, a time when the earth enters the constellation of Makara or Capricorn. It is one of the most popular days for kite enthusiasts in India.
The famous Desert Kite Festival at Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur (Rajasthan) is held between January 11 and 14, to coincide with Makar Sankranti. Teams from all over the world come together for kite making, kite flying, and kite fighting competitions.
As children and adults in terraces of houses shout encouragingly “Woh Kata!", the kites take centrestage. A wide variety of kites can be seen in the sky. From simple diamond shaped kites to designer ones, they all try to soar to unimaginable heights.
While the kites of Rampur, Lucknow and Moradabad in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh are said to be the best, manjha, the thread used to fly the kite, is usually made in another city of Uttar Pradesh, namely Bareilly. Manjha is made by coating the thread with glass powder to make it sharp.
But true artistry lies in making kites. Khan Saheb who makes kites as a part of his traditional family business, and shuttles between Rampur and Delhi, says “Din mein hum 50-60 saadi patange bana lete hain ya phir 4-5 janwar wali.” (In a day we make 50-60 plain kites or about four to six designer ones with animal patterns.) Usually designer kites are made to order, as they are more expensive.
But for the child on a terrace, armed with a simple diamond-shaped kite, a spool of thread and a bit of precious sharp manjha, kite flying is one of the cheapest ways to have a day full of excitement. On a good day, a little champ could bring in a few free kites after hectic battles in the sky. On a bad day, it is time to chase any fallen kite that hasn’t been claimed yet. Either way, the fun never ends.