Makar Sankranti – day of kites! (repost)

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What’s this?

Today is Makar Sankrati in India. Despite the title, it’s not just about flying kites. Makar Sankrati is a winter solace festival in India (and in other some other Asian countries) and is one of the major festival in the Hindu calendar. From Sanskrit, makar comes from the word makara, meaning the sun-sign of Capricorn. Sankranti means the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign into another, and so Makar Sankranti refers to the movement of the sun into Capricorn, and a movement into longer days and warmer weather – it’s winter there now.

Although Makar Sankranti is possibly its most well-known name, the festival is known by many other names all over India.  You may have heard of Pongal, as it’s known in the south-western state of Tamil Nadu.

How do people celebrate Makar Sankranti? Depending on where in India someone lives, they might wear new clothes, eat sweets, build a bonfire, bathe in a holy river or draw rangoli (a pattern drawn on the floor with coloured rice, flour, sand or with flower petals). They’re also very likely to fly kites!

Last year I was in Pushkar, a small town in Rajasthan, for the festival. In the few days leading up to the festival the town was at a fever pitch as young boys (and not-so-young boys!) spent up big on kites and string from make-shift stalls. The excitement in the air was palpable! My friend bought dozens of kites (just like the ones in the photo, made simply from coloured tissue paper and bamboo) for himself, his sister and his two sons, and 6km worth of string! Yes, 6! 

The day was absolutely delightful. Everyone was on their rooftops and the sky was full of thousands of brightly coloured kites. It was very much a family day, with everyone playing kites together – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, groups of friends. It was lovely to see. However, although it looked peaceful, the sky became a battleground as kids tried to ‘cut’ the strings of other kites with their own. You would hear someone yell ‘cut!’, a cheer would go up and the defeated kite, whose string had been cut, would fall slowly to the ground.

These brings me to a very serious side of kite flying. Often the string used to cut an opponent’s kite is manja, a string that is gummed and coated with powdered glass. Last year in Delhi in August, on India’s Independence Day (also a popular day to fly kites), 2 children and a man died after having their throats accidentally slit by kite string.  The death toll for animals, birds in particular, is much higher. Government officials are now moving to ban this string.   

Where’s this?

Pushkar, Rajasthan 

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6 thoughts on “Makar Sankranti – day of kites! (repost)

    1. Thanks dotbyrne.wordpress.com! Actually, I posted this story 2 weeks early by mistake – Makar Sankranti is on January 14th, not the 8th. I read that kite flying was encouraged as a way of getting sun exposure to ward off illness in mid-winter – good idea I think!

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    1. Thanks very much! Yes, he would love it. The little kids were sooo excited! Unfortunately I also read about a boy in Jaipur (also in Rajasthan) who similarly had his throat slit whilst riding his bike that day.

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  1. Reminds me of my time in Chennai. It was May and it was hot. Every evening just before sunset people climbed onto their rooftops to fly kites. Beautiful sight.

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    1. Yes, it really was lovely to see. Unfortunately, when I was in Pushkar itself that day, techno music was being blasted from many rooftops, which in my mind doesn’t fit kite flying at all! I spent the afternoon on my friend’s rooftop in a village nearby with no techno – just the sounds of excited kids and the swoosh of kites – much nicer!

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