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January 2010
Kite Festival in Ahmedabad
Mukesh Khosla
The International Kite Festival of Ahmedabad is a major attraction, luring tourists from all over the world who come to see the azure sky turn into a multihued rainbow with kites of all colours, shapes and sizes, sailing with the wind

Pausha is the tenth month of the Hindu calendar and arrives when most of North India is under a cold spell. Lasting till January 21st, it has a special importance in Gujarat. Here, it signifies the beginning of the Uttarayan Festival or Makar Sakranti when the sun begins its journey towards the Northern Hemisphere. Besides worshipping the Sun God, the Gujaratis celebrate the clear blue skies and the gentle breeze of this season with kite flying. The sky turns into a multi-hued rainbow as kites of all shapes and sizes dot the horizon. There are friendly contests, with kite fliers cutting across age groups and social strata, challenging one another in a bid for supremacy of the skies.

Sky Supremacy
Numerous competitions are held with the one at Ahmedabad attracting kite-fliers from all over the world. The International Kite Festival is organised by the Gujarat State Tourism Corporation annually, and the venue of the event is either the Sardar Patel Stadium or the Police Stadium in Ahmedabad. People from different Indian states and other countries come here to match their skills with other kite fliers.

Right from the crack of dawn, the azure skyline of Ahmedabad starts filling up with kites of all colours, sizes and shapes - from designer kites of England, Germany, France, Holland and Sweden, to the locally made traditional ones. The enthusiasts are spoilt for choices. There are the Guddis (the small kites) and there are the Guddas (big kites - flown to challenge other fliers). Even as the day gives way to dusk and darkness, the enthusiasm does not abate, as people are ready with their Tukkals or illuminated kites! There are also the box kites flown in a series, lighting up the night sky.

Teams of men and women come out with their patangs (kites), manjha or dor (string harnessed to the kite to make it fly) and chakris (wooden contraption around which the string is wound). People on rooftops and in parks have only one thing in mind - making a kite sail with the wind. As soon as one set of players brings down an opponent's kite, there is child-like glee all around, with the air echoing with victorious rants of Ayee-Bo. Age has nothing to do with the level of gaiety and merriment.

Patang Bazar
The Ahmedabad Patang Bazaar is open round the clock and shopkeepers do brisk business in this one-week of the Uttarayan festival. The best time to visit this bazaar is in the middle of the night. Even in these wee hours, there are crowds, and the buying and selling of kites continues at a hectic pace. There is an air of festivity all around, when families come out in their best attire to participate in this sporting social activity, which has become almost a ritual. During this festival, it seems that kite flying is a complete art that requires multiple skills of good eyesight, mental agility, physical fitness and a sense of anticipation.

Fighter Kites
Many kite aficionados do not trust the manjha available in the market and prefer to make their own at home. The secret of successful kite flying is in its razor-sharp string. And the one who knows this secret usually wins the battle of the skies. Special strategies are adopted to anticipate the moves made by the opponents and counter-moves are planned accordingly.

Painch or the art of entangling the opponent's kite and 'cutting' it requires the skills of a master. And this skill can take years to hone. A lot depends on the sharpness of the string to which the kite is attached. A combination of glass powder, sand and glue is applied to thick ordinary string to sharpen it. Notes Milan Kansara, a veteran Ahmedabad kite seller of 62 years, "In the olden days some kings are said to have applied diamond shrapnel to give the manjha its cutting edge!"

He adds that the Gujarati 'fighter kites' are predominantly lighter and do not necessarily have a tail. That is because the focus here is more on developing the technique of 'cutting' the opponent's kite than on flying it purely for one's personal pleasure. India is the only country - apart from Pakistan and Bangladesh - where you get fighter kites. In other parts of the world, kites are mostly ornamental or have religious sentiments attached to them.

Forgiving and Forgetting
Over the years, the Kite Flying Festival has become a major tourist attraction of Ahmedabad. During the festival days in January, hotels and guesthouses are chockfull with visitors from far off places coming to witness the colourful festival that is both a sport and an expression of bonhomie. The festival is also a day of festivities and celebrations. There is revelry and friendly rivalry all around. New friendships are made and old enmities forgiven and forgotten.

Uttarayan marks the waning of winter, heralding clear blue skies and a cool breeze. Even the sunshine is very welcome as it heralds the onset of spring. The best part of the festival is that it overrides all caste considerations and is celebrated alike by all communities - becoming a major attraction, luring tourists from all over the world.

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