It happens only in Jaipur. And on the special day of Makar Sankranti, when the Sun God travels from Dakshinayan to Uttaranayan, the demi Gods wake up and the doors of Heaven open, the skies of Jaipur aren’t blue any more. The sky is full of blazing colours in the form of myriad kites-big, small, designer, lantern kites and many others. It is as if Scottish Australian musician Colin Hay’s lyrics about the blue skies don’t hold true for Jaipur anymore. The lyrics go
How do how do you do
I loved you since I first saw you
Tell me will you be mine
Through the winter and into summertime
I can see the sun is poking through
Shining on the likes of me and you
I am going why don’t you come too
Let’s go where the sky is blue
And not just in the present times, the Jaipur sky has been turning a riot of vibrant colours since ages. More prominently from the time when Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II (1835-1880) reigned. Born in 1834 AD, he was literally forced on to the throne on 6th February 1835 after the sudden death of his father.
The modernization of Jaipur, under the British influence was first brought about by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II. After Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, he is considered as the most enlightened of the Jaipur rulers. He was a perfect and a complete ruler. He gave Jaipur, the modernized version of Polo, Billiards, Badminton, Cricket, Photography, Theater, Education including the Schools, Colleges, and even Technical Colleges. He was the first photographer prince and the only one to start a formal course in photography in an institution other than a photography studio.
And he had a passion for kite flying. And urged other royal members to participate in these kite flying sessions wholeheartedly.
A great kite enthusiast, he set up a separate unit in the Palace as a kite workshop along with other “Karkhanas” for experimenting with kites and continuing the tradition of kite flying.
During that period, kites were unusually large .The Maharaja used to invite expert kite makers from Lucknow and those who made superior quality threads to fly them from as far as Bareli. A Palace room remained full of kites and its accessories. The paintings of that period give an account of his passion for kite flying.
There are some paintings from the 16th Century in the personal collection of Brigadier Bhawani Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Jaipur, which show kites being flown in Jaipur during the visit of some Portuguese padres to the court of Sawai Ram Singh II. There are also references in ancient poetry to lovers sending notes to their beloved through kites and some paintings from the Mughal era reflect this dalliance.
And it was the king’s kite which everyone wanted to cut and grab. Legends say horse riders used to compete with each other to grab the King’s kite and whoever was lucky enough to capture it and return to the king, became eligible for an inam and bakshish (reward) from the ruler. In fact horse riders were despatched to get back the kites.
Pankaj Kumar, senior curator of the City Palace, Jaipur told Rajasthan Post: “Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II was fond of kite flying and had a rich collection of kites from different countries. Maharaja’s kites were adorned with bells of silver or gold, which created musical sound when they flew in air. He had recruited special horse riders to bring back the kites, which got cut while flying. Maharaja was also popular for granting jagirs to those who brought back his favourite kites.”
Earlier the kings used cotton “sadda” (the flying thread) which caused no harm either to birds or humans but nowadays manjha, especially the Chinese ones are causing serious accidents.
The royal kites laced with gold and silver trinklets could be seen shining from a distance. Tukkal, kite and charkhies of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II still adorn the City Palace and are put on display every Makar Sankranti.
The beautiful leaf shaped kite made up of cloth displayed at the City Palace is grabbing eyeballs. The huge “charkis”(wooden wheels on which the strings were wound) used during the earlier era were on display at the City Palace
It is believed that Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hien brought the tradition of kite flying to India, when they came here in Fourth and Seventh century respectively.
The kite flying custom continues even today as the patangbazi fest goes off to a rousing start with kite festival at the City Palace every year on Makar Sankranti. Kite flyers of different age groups and from different countries take part in the festivities.
Adding to the fun are folk singers who regale the audience with folksy numbers which perfectly complement the traditional ambience around. And one can also gorge on popular delicacies of til ke ladoo, pakordas, while keeping their eyes glued to the sky.
Helena Rouschelf, 23, from Australia struggling to lift up her kite this year at the City Palace, said: “I am enjoying kite flying a lot here. It has been an amazing experience though I am doing it for the first time but it is the most beautiful way of celebrating a festival.”
Alhough the popcorn generations of Jaipurites are more gadget-friendly than being kite crazy, but on this one day of Makar Sankranti, thousands of colourful kites take flight in the open sky till one of them gets the boot and begins its downward descent, amidst cries ‘voh kaata re.’