If you are walking on the streets of Jaipur anytime during the first half of January there is a high chance that you can collect few kites falling from the sky on your way. The tradition of kite flying in Jaipur dates back to the times of Maharaja Ram Singh II (1835-80), who was an ardent lover of flying kites. Legend has it that during this time of the year Maharaja would take out time and fly kites till he was exhausted by the thrill of it. He would then cut the thread and let the wind blow off the loose kite. Whoever did the hard work of following its descent, collecting it and then presenting it back to the Maharaja was rewarded by the His Highness himself. Staying true to this spirit, every year on the 14th of January Jaipurites climb on to their terraces and fill the sky with numerous colourful kites competing with each other to stay afloat.
Why 14th of January? No one really knows why. However, January 14th is the day when the Sun begins its movement away from the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) and towards the northern hemisphere. In Hindu culture, this movement of the Sun God is considered auspicious and a harbinger of spiritual light and wisdom and hence this day is celebrated as Makar Sankranti festival in India. Unlike most other festivals, which follow the lunar based Hindu calendar, Makar Sankranti is a solar event and hence has a fixed date. While various other cities of Rajasthan like Bikaner and Ajmer celebrates the festival of kite flying on another significant day for Hindus called Akshaya Tritiya, Jaipur likes to submerge itself in welcoming the rising Sun on 14th January. Maybe, it’s just a way for people to thank the Sun for saving the city from the bitter cold.
The preparation of the festivals begins by visiting Jagannath Shah ka Rasta in Ramganj Bazaar in the walled city of Jaipur, which is the epicenter of Rajasthan for kite makers and sellers. The series of shops running on both sides of the narrow lane in this kite market is established and run by the Muslim families for years. However, not many families are involved in making the kites from scratch. The kites are mainly bought in to Jaipur from places like Bareilly and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. The thread used for flying kites in known as “Manja” which is rolled into a wooden spool with handles on both sides called ‘Charkhi’. The thread is made of fine cotton which are then sharpened using very fine grinned glass powder coating, colors and chemicals. This makes sure that the competitor’s kite is cut without much hassle and the winner gets to shout “Woh karta!” and announce his victory. The kites are available and named according to different colours and sizes like some of the common names are aadi, guddi, tukkal, addha, pauna, panni, etc.
Location of Jagannath Shah ka Rasta in Ramganj Bazaar, Jaipur