Basant the festival of colourful kites heralds hope, says DP Mohan
As the fields of mustard crop and the Amaltas trees start taking a yellow hue; as the chilly winds get replaced by cool breeze, the sky in northern India suddenly witnesses an eruption of colour. The scene is magical—hundreds of four-sided blocks of fields in all possible colours, shapes and sizes, dancing against a blue backdrop! This is the onset of the spring season or “Basant”, which heralds hope. And what better way to welcome the season of colour than by flying kites?
Traditionally, the 5th of the lunar month of Magha (which falls between mid-January to mid-February) is celebrated as Basant Panchmi. The day is especially popular in north-west part of the Indian sub-continent and areas now falling into East and West Punjab . Suddenly, the rooftops in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Lahore in Pakistan come alive with people of all age groups, their eyes and necks angled skywards.
Seeing people stretching their vertebral columns at odd angles, moving their hands as if climbing a rope; sometimes on their toes with an arm stretched nearly to the point where the body proportions given by Da Vinci’s ‘The Virtuvian Man’ would no more hold true, an outsider can mistake the scene as a mass mime, until the eyes catch attention of a hair-thin string going skywards. This is the rein that controls the kite. Kite-flying has been an inseparable part of the spring season since centuries among all the communities—Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.
The string is the most crucial part of kite-flying, especially if one desires to indulge in kite battles. It’s the weapon that decides the fate of the kite. Traditionally, the kite-fliers coat the string with wax or ganji to make it stronger so that the `drag pressure' on the string can be reduced. Those with more aggressive ideas, prepare maanja string that is coated with a fine powder of glass that gives the controller a `cutting edge' over his or her opponents.
The enthusiasm of the fliers is so great that grabbing the kati patang means as much as the head of the vanquished enemy in a battlefield. In the kite battles, the warriors send their ‘kite soldiers’ soaring, exhibiting the deftness of their flying techniques. Sounds of crying, whistling, cheering rent the air, along with joyous shouts of Bo Kataaaaaaaaa (‘Kite is down’).
In Rajasthan and Gujarat, kite flying gathers a frenzied momentum on January 13, also celebrated as Makar Sankranti – the day the sun changes direction and starts to move towards the northern hemisphere.
Originally, this was a festival linked to the agrarian community, which used to fly kites to predict the weather for sowing spring crops. Kites were flown to determine the prevailing wind and weather conditions. Farmers used their extensive experience to determine the type of crops that would do best for a spring harvest under the prevailing weather conditions. But over the centuries kite flying has become a sport and a recreation.
The viral influence of ‘Kite-flying’ has permeated southrwards from North. Mangalore has a unique tradition of flying kites. For the last more than 10 years, a group of highly skilled kite designers and flyers been luring thousands of people to the beach for the kite festivals.
Flying kites is fun and it needs skill to make perfectly balanced kites that can take off into the sky and remain there for hours without much human effort. The art of kite making was once a serious skill in families. The elders chose the best pieces of bamboo and cut it to size, to make the frame for fixing coloured paper onto it.
In Karnataka, it is in December that kite shops are found in plenty in cities like Bangalore, Mysore, Hassan with strings and prices to suit every need.
Lahore: The Capital of Kite-Flying
Muslims, too, are known for their love for celebrating this festival, calling it Jashan-e Baharaan. In Lahore, kite flying is a 24-hour spectacle and has pioneered night kite flying – using strong beams of lights and white kites for better visibility. Little wonders that Lahore is the official kite flying capital of Pakistan. It is where Basant is celebrated with unmatched passion and zeal. There is no official Basant day there, but an entire Basant season of kite flying accompanied my rooftop dinners, dances, and merry making.
In Jodhpur, the run-up to Makar Sankranti is celebrated as the International Kite Festival. Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, also the chairman of Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, hosts it every year in the Umaid Bhavan palace lawns. About 75 fliers from 7 countries participate - with teams from Belgium, France, Hong Kong, U.K., Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan and about 7 teams from Jodhpur and Delhi, Pune, Jaipur. Only in 1998 did the team from Hong Kong defeat the Jodhpur ‘Fateh Sagar Kite Club’. In all the other years, Indian teams have taken the crown. The theme of the kite festival is ‘One-Sky-One World’. There can’t be a more relevant theme in this age of confrontation!