India has many vibrant and fascinatingly amazing festivals all year round however there are few that can compete with the excitement and colour of Uttarayan, the annual kite festival in the state of Gujarat. The festival is to celebrate the end of Winter and is celebrated the day after the Winter Solstice of the Northern Hemisphere.
The lead up of this festival begins with the sale of kites of all sizes, shapes and colours along with the essential accompaniments such as huge reals of kite string, tape for prevention of kite string cuts on the flyers hands, hats and sunglasses. Some Indian families spend months leading up to the two day festival making the paper kites to sell on the street and in the gutters to customers looking for the best aerodynamic pieces to make their Uttarayan days memorable. It is not unusual to see people buying hundreds of kites….this is due to the number of kites in the sky at any one time and once your kite is flying high, someone is sure to overlap your string and ‘snap’….your kite is a free spirit and never to be seen again.
The kite sting has a story of its own. It is available in many fluorescent colours and is glass infused and coated so that the strings are strong and your opponents kite strings can be cut easily…..its war out there in the kite flying world. Indian transport consists mostly of scooters and motorcycles and during Uttarayan, it is hazardous to be traveling on this form of transport as the glass coated kite strings can be strung across roadways and alleys after a kite falls from the sky. Every year there are a few fatalities from this activity unfortunately, however smart scooter riders fit an arched wire to the front of their bikes to ensure any fallen strings can pass easily over the top of the rider if they come in contact with such hazard. Other injuries include severe facial and limb cuts which keep the medical profession busy this time of year stitching up wounds from unsuspecting spectators and kite revellers.
The best vantage point for Uttarayan is upon rooftop terraces in the older residential areas of the major cities in Gujarat. The sky is literally filled with millions of kites of all shapes, sizes and colours. The atmosphere is electric with huge stereo systems pounding out Indian Bollywood music on every terrace, serious Indian dance moves happen spontaneously on high concrete terrace lookouts, hooters and horns are blown by excited children and young adults. The whipping action of serious kite enthusiasts boosting their colourful flying creations into the sky are a site to behold and traditional Indian food made especially for Uttarayan is constantly being passed around and enjoyed by everyone participating. This is the festival of all Indian festivals….if this doesn’t impress you nothing will.
This event, like any Indian event, does not commence until late afternoon around 3-4pm. The sun begins to sink onto the horizon of seemingly endless Indian concrete angular shaped buildings sprawling across the city giving the sky that wonderful unforgettable orange Indian sunset hue. Kites dart every which way creating a kite frenzy with screams of excitement when a string is cut and someones’ kite bobbing hundreds of meters above Mother Earth is set free leaving the string limp in the perplexed kite flyers taped up hands.
As daylight fades into dusk, kites continue to grace the entire sky bouncing and bobbing but now a new element of colour and danger is about to appear out of nowhere. Large colourful Chinese paper dome shaped lantern balloons are carefully constructed, lit and set free to float into oblivion. There is a true art in successfully boosting these floating candle balloons into the night sky…many of them come to grief burning their colourful paper sides before even being launched. As final daylight subsides, almost immediately the dark sky twinkles with floating, rapidly rising lantern balloons. Within seconds the sky seems to be completely filled with ghostly slowly moving golden eyes staring down upon us. Fireworks are readily available here in India and anything goes……within minutes, you are surrounded by the most impressive firework display you’ll ever see. Your ears ring from the explosions as close as 2 meters from anywhere you stand. The light show goes on for at least two hours until all the pyromaniacs have released and exhausted their supplies. Bollywood music blares from all possible directions at decibels inconceivable to ones ears.
Gujarat is a dry state and alcohol sale and consumption is illegal. Having said this, it does not interfere with the massive party involving millions of Indians on rooftops having excessive fun. No alcohol necessary for this party…… It runs on a fuel of its own called adrenaline and excitement.
The aftermath is gruesome with rubbish littering the city, however yet another Indian festival has been thoroughly enjoyed by all its participants who anxiously await the next big event on the Indian calendar.
This is Incredible India!