It was exciting being in midst of all these festivities, seeing the kites soar, blanketing the crisp winter sky in colourful specs.
The significance of Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan)
Unlike other Hindu festivals which follow the lunar motion, Makar Sankranti follows the movement of the sun. It marks the beginning of the sun’s transition into the zodiac of Capricorn (Makar=Capricorn, Sankranti= transition). This makes it the only festival to fall on a fixed date every year – January 14th.
It is a festive day all over India. Each region celebrates its own local form of this festival. In the western parts of India it is called the “Makar Sankranti”.
This is the day winter officially ends and spring begins – a transition symbolic of discarding the previous season’s bad and the beginning of a fresh new season.
Uttarayan is synonymous with kite flying.
Mobile kite vendors like this boy have to carry the kites on their heads, for the fear of them being trampled otherwise. There isn’t any other safe way to roam around with them.
Of course, the Bollywood stars are ubiquitous! People will literally take them soaring to the skies!
And yes, any festival is all about love! We all need big love!
Which is why kites have to be bought in large numbers.
Making of the manjha
Manjha is the thread tied to the kites. It is made by specific communities. Each colour stands for a specific community. It is not just a regular thread. Manjha is coated with powdered glass, making it extremely sharp.
Food – important to any Indian festival.
In Gujarat, a special winter vegetable called undhiyo is the specialty of the day. It’s a preparation of several beans, roots and other local seasonal vegetables.
Then there are the twisted and crooked orange spirals called jalebee.Their explosive sweetness is a perfect accompaniment to the rustic goodness of the undhiyo.
The smooth flowing batter is first fried in the shape of these spirals. The fiery golden discs are then instantly dunked in sugar syrup. What results is a melt-in-your mouth sweet heaven.
Jalebees are not for the mild hearted, mind you! They are desserts meant for the hard core sugar lover!
Kite flying, a team sport!
After a hearty breakfast, every body gets on the rooftops. Kite flying is a family event. Entire families gather together on the terraces, roofs or any other part of their house exposed to the sky.
Those not busy flying are busy in preparing the kites. Getting the tension on its skeleton right, is the key to the strength of the kite. The positioning of the holes to insert the manjha will decide the flight angle and it’s trajectory.
All of these technicalities, make kite flying a team event.
Rolling-out and pulling-in of the manjha has to go in sync with the kind of contest your kite has got into, in the skies.
The contests among the kites
The contests are very intensely fought. It requires a lot of concentration to not lose sight of your kite. Controlling the flight and motion of the kite so high up, is no easy task.
The kite that flies the tallest is the star of the day!
In its complex maze of tiny lanes was where we experienced the magic!
Top tips for experiencing the festival of Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan):
- Get to Gujarat – that’s the key. Even though the festival is celebrated in most parts of India, it’s magnitude in Gujarat is like no other place.
- Ahmedabad is the city we would recommend you head into. It is well connected by trains, buses and flights with other parts of India. Getting into Ahmedabad and around is easy.
- Book a place for yourself in advance, in the old parts of Ahmedabad (east of the Sabarmati river), preferably the area called Khadia. This is where the rest of the city gathers to fly their kites.
- Khadia and surroundings is full of tiny lanes called pol which house many heritage bungalows. The people will be eager to show off their heritage. Experience this old world charm and soak in their hospitality along with celebrating Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan). The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation also offers heritage walks in the pols of Ahmedabad. Highly recommended.
- We suggest a short holiday (3-4 days) to Ahmedabad, when you are there to celebrate Makar Sankranti. The International Kite Flying event coincides with Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan). Take time to visit this on the banks of Sabarmati, to see the huge kites the kite fliers from all across the globe bring along.
- Ahmedabad is a city that offers something to the visitor of every kind. Food, street shopping, culture, architecture – it has it all.
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What is Makar Sankranti?
Makar Sankranti or just Sankranti is celebrated in India by various groups of people for different reasons. In astrology it is day on which the sun moves into the house of Capricorn. The name of the festival comes from combination of the Hindi word for Capricorn- Makar and the word for the movement of earth from one zodiac in the sky to another- sankranti. The day is supposed to mark the winter solstice but since calculations for the lunar calendar are not made using the tropical (standard) time scheme it falls on the 14th of January, 21 days after the actual winter solstice.
Why do we celebrate Makar Sankranti?
There are many beliefs and much folk-lore behind the celebrations of this day. One is that on this day Vishnu ended the war between the Devas and Asuras which had been going on for millenia. So for some this marks the end of negativity and a start of the era of righteous living.
Another belief is that Bhishma, who was granted a boon by his father that he would die only when he willed it, decided to be released from his mortal form. Hence it is auspicious for people to begin physical and spiritual journeys on this day.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated by different names and customs in different parts of India. It is essentially a harvest festival celebrated with great fanfare. There are melas or fairs held in many regions but one of the traditions in particular is flying kites. People of all ages take to rooftops to fly kites in an act to get closer to God.
Kites come in various shapes and sizes and can be made of different types of materials. The most common type of kite is the diamond shaped kite that is light-weight and easy to fly. Have you ever flown a kite? Try it!
Click here to know a few amazing facts about the Festival of Kites.