When I was a child, my weekends were dedicated to flying kites. My friends and I would hike up a nearby hillock early in the morning, bracing the chilly winds. The weather rarely dampened our spirits; if anything, it made us want to climb faster, reach the top, and soak in the warmth of the morning sun, whose rays would slowly light up the town below. Mid-January, it looked its colourful best, with kites of various shapes, sizes and hues dotting the clear blue skies. It was also when we celebrated the harvest festival of Makara Sankranti.
Besides marking the time when farmers reap their crops, Sankranti represents the transition of the sun into the zodiac sign of Capricorn. As it follows the movement of sun, Sankranti falls on the same day of every year, as per the Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated on 14 January, across India, and it goes by different names in different regions–Makara Sankranti in Karnataka, Lohri in Punjab, Sakraat in Bihar and Jharkhand, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, and Uttarayan in Gujarat.
Like the names, the festivities too differ across the country. During Makara Sankranti in Karnataka, people distribute a mixture of jaggery, sesame seeds and peanuts. Punjabis celebrate Lohri by dancing around a bonfire. During Sakraat, people of Bihar and Jharkhand prepare a special dish called Tilgud made of sesame seeds and jaggery.
No matter what challenges come our way, the kites herald the need to start afresh and find the strength to keep going. Kites symbolise this resilience and motivate us to keep aiming for the sky.
The harvest festival is a two-day affair in Gujarat. The first day is celebrated as Uttarayan and it involves kite-flying. People meet up with their friends and family and fly patang (kites) on their terraces in the morning. They enjoy the warmth of the sun and the sight of colourful kites flying against the strong winds in the clear sky. Together, loved ones bond over food, fun, and laughter. Festivities are in the air and everybody takes a break from their daily routine to participate in kite-flying. Everyone is on the rooftops, competing against each other in a battle of kites.
Kite-flying is just not an event limited to family and friends, it is a major sporting event in Gujarat. Each contestant attempts to defeat other kite flyers by cutting the thread off their kites. ‘Kai po che’ is a popular taunt that winners shout at losers.
Besides being a fun activity, kite-flying during Sankranti has a spiritual significance. It is considered a way to greet the gods who are believed to be in slumber during the winter months. Scientifically speaking, kite-flying is beneficial for our bodies. Sankranti marks the end of winter and the beginning of summer. As many parts of the country experience harsh, cold weather during winter, flying kites in open spaces exposes the body to the bright, warm sun.
The festival of Makara Sankranti embodies the spirit of joy and togetherness. It is a special time when families come together, bond over kite-flying and food, and bask in the sun. It is also the time for new beginnings. No matter what challenges come our way, the kites herald the need to start afresh and find the strength to keep going. Kites symbolise this resilience and motivate us to keep aiming for the sky.