The usage of kites has not changed much over the years. They are flown extensively during festivals, mostly Uttarayan. The intention of flying is purely for recreation or as healthy competition. The fighter kites with sharp threads are used in competitions. The kites have also been seen quirkily used as wall decorations in present times.
Indian fighter kites are bought with much care and scrutiny. Expert flyers are very particular about the right combination of the tautness of paper surface and the spring on the bamboo skeleton. Kite flying is an integral part of the Indian festivities, characteristically turning rooftops into bustling spaces with various families generously hosting kite fliers.
When the festival day approaches, more and more shops, which previously sold shoes or hardware, convert to kite stalls. Around the time of Uttarayan, the entire marketplace comes alive with colour and going to buy a kite becomes an occasion in itself. Apart from the innumerable colours and many shapes of kites, different types of Manja (strings), many other accessories are also sold. These include protection gear like tapes to protect fingers from the glass coated string and sunglasses to adhesive paper tapes for repairing kites to articles for pure entertainment such as blow horns, headgear and masks. Kite-making craft is also a source of seasonal employment with high returns where even a small pushcart or street corner is transformed into an instant kite shop.
Since 1989, Gujarat has been hosting the Gujarat International Kite Festival around the time of Uttarayan. Kite enthusiasts from all over the world come to display their skill and a variety of kites. The Gujarat government invites kite masters from all over- the world and display their best made kites too woo the awestruck crowd. Ahmedabad also houses a kite museum, which was established by Bhanubhai Shah who was a great connoisseur and collector of kites.
Regardless of the theories of its origin, it is the wind that deserves the credit for this discovery. The legend has it that the hat of a Chinese farmer blown by the wind helped create the first kite.
Like the ancient Greeks, Indians too give importance to the sun as a god of intelligence and wisdom. Sankranti means transmigration of Sun from one zodiac in Indian astrology to the other. As per Hindu customary beliefs, there are 12 such Sankrantis in all. Derived from ancient Indian language, the word ‘Sankranti‘ is the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius (‘Dhanu’ Rashi) to Capricorn (‘Makara’ Rashi). In this case, the zodiacs are measured side-really, and not tropically, in order to account the Earth’s precession. That is why the festival falls about 21 days after the tropical winter solstice, which lies between December 20 and 23rd. This special day in mid-January marks the moment when the God Sun (Surya) begins its ascendancy and enters into the northern hemisphere.
Though there is not any religious belief behind the idea of flying kites. People fly kites on this day because by doing it unknowingly they receive the benefits of sun exposure. During winter, our body gets infected and suffers with cough and cold and rough skin and many other common diseases like bronchitis and sinusitis due to the cold climate during this season. So when on January 14 the sun enters into northern hemisphere, it terminates the cold winter season bringing along warmer spring days. Its rays act as medicine for the body. Coming in contact with direct sun and constantly being exposed to sunrays, automatically cures some of these diseases and eradicates most of the infections and insanitation, as sunlight is said to have great healing power and tremendous health benefits.
Kites were been brought into India by Muslim traders or Buddhist religious pilgrims coming from China to obtain sacred texts. Most people believe that kites were first brought into India by Chinese travellers, Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang but from there the kites have taken their own evolutionary route in India. It has always had a special place in the history of India and some even believe that it dates back to the invasions of Mongols who converted to Islam. Therefore, even today it is Muslim community who make them.
As regards Indian literature, Manzan mentioned kites for the first time in Madhumati. They were called Patang. Here, the flight of a kite is associated with the loved one by a poet. Marathi poets Eknath and Tukaram also described kites in their verses where the word ‘vavdi’ has been used. In the book, The Complete World of Kites, Bill Thomas depicts that the kite played a vital role in an early territory battle between Hindus and Muslims.
In 1300 AD, the word ‘Gurdhi‘ meaning ‘kite’ was first used in a Hindustani song by the composer Santnambe. The word ‘Patang’, a generic term for ‘kite’, was used by the poet Manzan in many of his poems during 1542 AD. The rulers or the Nawabs of Lucknow used to fly their kites from their palace rooftops with a small purse of gold or silver attached which was an incentive for the others to try cutting down the kite to retrieve the precious prize.
Sawai Ram Singh, the king of Jaipur, was also very fond of kites and commissioned a patang khana or kite factory in the 16th century to specially make kites for him. The fragile nature of Indian kites has prevented the survival of any of these old specimens today. We can only get a glimpse of them in the paintings of that time. There are some paintings from the 16th Century in the personal collection of H.H. Brigadier Bhawani Singh, erstwhile ruler of Jaipur, which show kites being flown in Jaipur during the visit of some Portuguese padres to the court of Sawai Ram Singh.
The Mughals encouraged high levels of craftsmanship and did not undermine the kite-making craft too. The Muslim community mostly dominates the craft and trade of the kites to this day. The spirit of maintaining quality while opening up to new markets keeps the kite makers relevant in the present times.
Makar Sankranti holds special significance as on this day the solar calendar measures the day and night to be of equal durations on this day. From this day onwards, the days become longer and warmer. It is the day when people of northern hemisphere, the northward path of the sun marks the period when the sun is getting closer to them. The Aryans who started celebrating this day as an auspicious day for festivities signified the importance of the day. The reason behind this may be the fact that it marked the onset of harvest season. Even in the epic of Mahabharata, an episode mentions how people in that era also considered the day as auspicious. Bhishma Pitamah even after being wounded in the Mahabharata war lingered on till Uttarayan set in, so that he can attain heavenly abode in auspicious times. It is said that death on this day to brings Moksha or salvation to the deceased.
The symbolism of this festival is to show the awakening of the Gods from their deep sleep. Through India’s history, it is said that India created the tradition of kite flying due to the kings and Royalties later followed by Nawabs who found the sport entertaining and as a way to display their skills and power. It began as being a sport for kings, but over time, as the sport became popular, it began to reach the masses.
Simple geometric designs, stripes and circular or semicircular designs in contrasting colours are quite common. While the basic shape of the Indian kite remains largely unchanged from the diamond, there are subtle variations according to the region and requirement. With time, the surface decorations on kites have gone through a lot of changes with pictures of celebrities and politicians, musicians and sports stars, quotes and words becoming a part of the kite’s body. The kite paper used is now largely replaced with glittery and metallic coloured plastics, which last longer but harm the environment when they scar the city after the days of Uttarayan.
Parts of a kite ~ Irrespective of the variety of natural or synthetic materials used in its construction, parts of a kite are specific. These are: Sail, which is the covering material. Most kites have Bridle. Exceptions are those, which fly by attaching the flying line directly to a fixed point on the kite. Bridle is the set of fixed lines that attach to important points on the frame to hold the kite in a proper flying place. The third part is Frame, which consists of rigid materials. Sail and the bridle together create a frame with the help of wind. The fourth part is Line. This is the flying line to tether them into the wind.
Patang ~ This is the most common Indian kite. The height/width ratio is generally 1:1.2. A thin thread along the circumference of the kite reinforces its edges and the overlapping paper is glued back on to the sail. This is a tail-less kite. The tail is generally a small double triangular piece of tissue, pasted such that the bottom edge is flush with the level of the sail, with thin bamboo slivers along the outer edges for reinforcement.
Guddi ~ Almost as popular as the patang, this variation generally has a height/width ratio in reverse -1.2:1. In other words, the kite is taller than it is wide. The tail in this kite is generally a small tassel of tissue paper.
Dedh Kanni ~ This is a little uncommon and is generally used in lower winds – The kite is significantly broader than the regular patang and the height/width ratio tends to be close to 1:1.5. It shares the triangular patch tail with its parent patang.
Tukkal ~ This shape is more akin to the Malaysian Wau than the patang and is almost never seen in Indian skies except at Kite Festivals. In Pakistan, though, it is still a popular design. Twin double-bows make this a very “heavy” kite and not many people possess the skill to fly it. Besides, the time and energy required making one; you wouldn’t like to lose it by risking it in a kite battle.
Flight Attitude ~ This flying device could be as huge as even more than 50 feet in diameter. Tethered to an anchor point that is either static or moving, its flight attitude is, that it should fly in a reasonably steady fashion at an angle of 15 degrees above the tether point for a sustained period. The movement is controlled in the wind direction with threads attached to it in a hand-held pin-roll. It is carried by the wind and kept afloat.
Safe working spaces to the worker of the kite strings has become an issue because of increased traffic and pollution. The wounding of birds and animals due to the sharp glass on the Manja has been a long-standing problem. The craft is harmful in the long run for the craftsmen itself since the minute glass particles are absorbed into the bloodstream while it is rubbed by hand into the threads, even though gloves and coverings are used. Addressing this without affecting the livelihood of the craftsmen has been a constant challenge.
The kites are made by cutting the paper and sticking it onto the bamboo stick frame with great concentration and immense skill acquired over experience. Manjha for the kite string is done by smearing the taut threads with a rice paste mixed with textile dyes and finely ground glass.
– Coloured paper/plastic
– Bamboo sticks
– Glue- industrial adhesive such as Vajram
– Rice paste or Maida flour
– Powdered glass
– Coloring, Aluminum oxide, abrasive, looks white in Colour), Zirconia alumina, abrasive, looks Black in Colour)
Paper wastes are very common during the process of kite making in Ahmedabad. These are used recyclable and used by industries, which require paper and/or make recycled or handmade paper.
But the most amount of waste gets accumulated in the streets after the day of Makar Sankranti with torn and damaged kites everywhere.
– Broad knives and blades about 7X2 inches to cut the paper
– Cutting boards
– Charkas or reels: to wind the threads
– Tape: to cover fingers while making Manja
About a month before Makar Sankranti, people start flocking market streets to start storing kites of varied kinds and tukkals. They buy Manja and start coating it over the days. This is a ritual, which without fail has supported the kite and Manja industry in Ahmedabad for decades in a row.
The kites are made by cutting the paper and sticking it onto a bamboo stick frame with great concentration and immense skill, acquired over experience. Manjha for the kite string is done, by smearing the taut threads with a rice paste, mixed with textile dyes and finely ground glass.
The various parts of the kite come from different places. Every stage of the kite-making process is carried out by a different set of people. The only mechanical intervention would probably be the use of dye-cutters for cutting the paper in large quantities.
Making the kite – The paper workers work indoors, to avoid the breeze causing the papers to flutter around. They sit on low tables and precisely cut and place the light tissue paper that is used for kites. Thin strips of bamboo are bent and structured to form the frame. A thread is put at the edges of the kite for strength, then the frame is stuck to the paper and finally the tail and bits of paper to hold the frame are stuck to the kite. The glue used to stick the components of the kite is also homemade, with water and flour (Maida) paste as the main ingredients. The small tail section of the kite is made separately and pasted onto the bottom of the kite.
Making the Manjha or Kite strings –The basic ingredients are powdered glass, some colour and a binding agent – generally a cooked paste of wheat or rice flour. To this each Manja expert adds his own secret ingredients, which would make the string stronger and sharper such that it can slice through the other manjas in the sky. Water is boiled with the addition of vajram, to which is added a paste of Maida and finely powdered glass pieces to make a thick colloidal solution and the abrasives are added. The coloring is added, while stirring is continued to make a thick paste without the sedimentation of the glass and abrasives. The cotton thread is strung in eight or ten strands between two poles and the Manja maker walks up and down the length with the paste in his hands, finely coating the threads at each pass until the desired effect is achieved.
After coloring the threads are rolled on the ‘firkhi’. Coloring of the thread is done in two types.
– Either the dough is directly applied on white thread or,
– The thread is first dyed in color water and then dough is applied on the dyed thread. This makes the thread more strong and sharp.
List of craftsmen.
STRINGS OF A TIMELESS TRADITION – Morrison Skye, The Swadeshi Academic Council in Tamil Nadu, Mark Parkinson Published by the Government of Gujarat 2004