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How Gujarat celebrates Uttarayan

Crowded nooks and crannies of the city of Ahmedabad. Jalebi and Shrikhand shop keepers catering to people of all age and strata. Trees laced with colorful leftovers reminding one of the kite battles - enduring the mighty winds and marking the end of winter solstice.

art and culture Updated: Jan 17, 2012 19:07 IST
Swasti Pachauri
Swasti Pachauri

Crowded nooks and crannies of the city of Ahmedabad. Jalebi and Shrikhand shop keepers catering to people of all age and strata. Trees laced with colorful leftovers reminding one of the kite battles - enduring the mighty winds and marking the end of winter solstice.

In short, a colorful canvass that canopies most parts of the State of Gujarat - the first few weeks of January marking the onset of Sakranti- celebrated, christened and expressed through different forms all across the country - Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam, Lohri in Punjab and Uttarayan in Gujarat.

On this day (January 14th) of Sakranti in Gujarat, the over joyous streets and pathways of the Walled city of Ahmedabad get painted with Kites and Manjas (threads used for flying and cutting kites) of various shapes, sizes and shades. There are the dinosaur and helicopter kites- ranging from Rs 25 to Rs 45. Then there are those hot favourite diamond shaped kites priced at Rs 2.5 to Rs 5 - apparently also sold the most! Whites, Greens, Pinks and Yellows are the hot colors of a typical kite flyer. And then there are the imported Chinese Sky lanterns priced at Rs 100 each which when lit go up in the air - parachuting into the horizons beyond human perceptibility.

Adding more diversity to the kite basket inundating a typical consumer with overwhelming choices are also- the kites representing the "sloganeering- taking to the street-masses" with "Jai Hind", "I love my India", "Maa Tujhe Salaam" messages; all battling the skies with one objective - that of unleashing independence and human creativity into the infinite striving to combat not just the odds symbolized peripherally by the weather but also competition by peers and fellows- rich and poor, old and young.

Uttarayan or Sakranti as witnessed in Gujarat, according to me alleviates the demarcation and senses drawn by human beings and represents the unison of colors, spirits and most importantly the "cause". Yes, the cause of celebrating livelihoods in ones meager or lavish means. It communicates and boasts of the coexistence of competition and solidarity - garnered not just on the roof tops and terraces of houses but also the uneven spaces that characterize cities.A typical scene such as this- in the Walled city of Ahmedabad speaks volumes about the indomitable spirit of variegated communities and people celebrating life- in whatever form. In however form.

At the other end of the city, however, along the banks of river Sabarmati there is a different picture to sense and witness. The International Kite Festival hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, Gujarat opens every year with much fanfare in the mid week of January.

This festival year on year at the Sabarmati River Front has continued to serve as a platform for the global diaspora showcasing their top talents and creativity through the seasoned art of kite flying. This year around too, the city saw over 300 tourists participating in the competition from all across the world. Tourists of all nationalities this time of the year swell the streets and plush restaurants - digging into Gujrati Thalis, Khakra, Khandwi and Theplas - while meandering into the state experiencing and living the celebrations of Sakranti through colors. However, the fervor associated with Uttarayan, in this side of the city barely lasts three days (this year, January 11th, 12th, 13th) with a cinematic finale marking the end of the international event hosted by the State Government of Gujarat.

Our two day trip to Ahmadabad to experience the colorful specks of kite fights along the banks of Sabarmati however coerced us into understanding the slight gaps that become evident and necessary to bridge - if this event is to be served as a tourist hot potato in the coming few years.

First, there needs to be large scale branding for the festival by roping in multi brands and sponsors which have direct business objective linked with the agenda of the festival. It must be remembered that Uttarayan not only showcases art - but also exhibits livelihoods and community life patterns.

An affirmative advertising strategy and communications campaign should be invested heavily into and a paradigmatic shift in terms of building capacities of people should be thought upon. Community wall paintings in the walled and new city, along with a focus on honing skills of the kite producer community should be focused upon and worked out as a cost effective and sustainable business model to address development and cultural needs.

Second, like every other festival this too needs to have environment sustainability & inclusivity at its centre for its effective longevity in the minds of people. Competitions should be held in open spaces and lawns and group kite flying should be encouraged in local areas so to minimize the residuals of the festival. It is of course an appalling sight to witness the amalgamation of river Sabarmati overwhelming tourists by housing Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar and Ellis bridges on one hand and getting dirtied by the abandoned décor material and kite paper, on the other.

Last, a collective effort by the government, corporations and the citizenry, favoring the culture and heritage of Gujarat to the global diaspora through a participatory approach to address development should be streamlined into the festivals strategy. The micro producers (kite makers) and micro consumers (local kite flyers) should not be merely viewed as the supply-side stakeholders; but most importantly as participants in the process of integration and development.

For instance, kite making workshops, exhibitions and other sustainable products should be designed for the kite maker communities with the help of Ministry of Tourism and Small Enterprises and Industries- focusing to not just mainstream these communities into the agendas of development but also enhancing their incomes, subsequently.

Such affirmative measures must, therefore, be undertaken which could serve to be classic examples of Public Private Community Partnerships- achieved through the language of festivals!

First Published: Jan 16, 2012 17:59 IST