Marking the arrival of spring, the renowned Kite Festival of India is a mischievous one. Celebrated across the country, it is also the first day of the spring harvest. Lohri, Pongal, Khichdo, Uttarayan are some names that refer to the same festival, celebrated on the same day in different parts of the country.
As the sun transitions into the Zodiac of Capricorn (Makar), Indians across the country give thanks to Surya Dev – the Sun God as well as the Gods and Goddesses of Harvest and Growth. Families get together to pray, dance, and feast.
Makar Sankrant is perhaps the most unique of Hindu festivals for it is not only celebrated across communities but also because it is the only festival that occurs on the same dates each year. January 14th and 15th.
Uttarayan – Originated in Gujarat. Celebrated by all.
Uttarayan, the version of Makar Sankrant that is perhaps the most popular in modern India. Apart from the religious rituals, this festival is all about kites. And when we say kites, we are not talking about large bird shaped flying objects made out of synthetic textiles that are flown with two heavy strings. Indian kites are a phenomenon of their own.
The Indian Kite (Patang) – Thin, fragile paper held together with lightweight sticks in a very precise manner to enhance aerodynamics. These kites can fly as high as 1000 meters or more! If they can survive the kite strings of other kite flying enthusiasts.
The Indian Kite String (Manjha) – A specially prepared (there are several options and specifications), extremely thin and sharp string that is prepared from rubbing on layers of ground glass and glue onto a cotton thread. It is then wound around a large wooden or plastic spool called a firki. The string is sharp enough to cut through skin and is a source of pride for the kite flier.
Kite flying in India is a competitive sport. But a sport in which every man, woman and child can participate. Thus, on January 14th of every year, rooftops across India are booming with pop music, laughter and frequent calls of, kai po che! meaning â€œyour kite has been cut down!. And that is where the competition lies. From sunrise to sunset, families and friends gather on their rooftops to not only successfully launch their kites up into the sky but to also skillfully “cut down” the other kites flying nearby. The energy and excitement is something that has to be experienced first-hand.
The feast typically includes dishes made of sesame seeds and jaggery. Often these come in the form of crunchy laddoos or chikki made of toasted sesame seeds and jaggery that usually have 1 rupee coins in the center for good luck.
There is also the practice of preparing khichdo, a porridge made of cracked wheat with raisins, nuts and sugar. There is also a savory version of khichdo that is traditionally made with rice and 5 types of pulses. Every home of course, has its own version and recipe. The preparation of Kharo (savoury) Khichdo for Uttarayan has a separate and somewhat amusing significance. Kharo Khichdo is to be prepared at dusk and it is said that when the pot is about the boil over, the direction in which it boils over is the direction from which the goddess of wealth (money, money, money!) will arrive to bless your home. The tradition is to stand over the boiling pot to observe the direction in which the pot boils over. What is that saying about a watched pot?
If one wants to truly get a feel for the fun and energy that is Uttayan, it must be done in Gujarat. While it is celebrated all across India, Ahmedabad and Baroda are particularly fascinating, where it is said that for a day, the sky is eclipsed with colorful kites and the air is filled with the sounds of merriment.
Do you like timing your travel so you can participate in local festivities? Would you like to know more about the different festivals of India? Check out this nifty calendar…
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