One of the most awaited festivals for Gujarati families, Uttarayan is right here. As we talked to a few people from Gujarat about their celebrations, they give us a peek into some traditions, memories and changes that have shaped Uttarayan in Gujarat.
Whether or not this could be a coincidence or a well-planned action to organise Road Safety Week in India between January 11 to 17, it mingles well as the time period also observes the popular festival, Uttarayan in Gujarat and Makar Sankranti in many parts of India. When the skies in the state turn colourful, sweet fragrances reach noses and people are seen working with threads, it's easy to know that Uttarayan is around the corner in Gujarat. So, when people are devoured by sweetness, what else can be the best time to use it to further help them understand the importance of road safety, with another sweet gesture, such as giving a rose?
An RTO Inspector Vishal Vataliya, who hails from Ahmedabad and is currently posted on Bharuch is looking forward to celebrating Uttarayan with his family in Ahmedabad like the previous years. But before that, he is also well vested in the Road Safety Week ongoing in Gujarat that aims to spread awareness among people about the safety measures taken while on roads, but not by imposing fines. "During Uttarayan, not many people are seen on the streets as they prefer celebrating the time at home. But pre and post-the festival, when they turn out in the huge crowds for shopping, we see it as a good chance to teach them the safety measures," he says.
Apart from giving roses instead of levying fines on people riding without helmets and driving cars without seat belts, the RTO personnel in Gujarat also pay visits to schools to teach children about road safety measures and thus, gets added another highlight to the already rejoiced festival, Uttarayan.
Makar Sankranti, which is popularly known as Uttarayan in Gujarat, marks the onset of the harvest season in the state, as in the whole of India and people perceive it to be the soon arrival of the summer. The festival constitutes great cultural importance in Gujarat that also organises another extravaganza like the 'International Kite Festival' in Ahmedabad. While it is hard to trace the history that could narrate how the festival became an integral part of the state's culture, figuring out the enthusiasm among Gujaratis for this festival is much easier.
Even Mr. Vataliya, who often has to keep an eye on any possible mishappenings during his holiday on Uttarayan, does not leave this chance to enjoy himself with his family. Back in his hometown, Ahmedabad, as he says, people give the terraces for rent for the festival. "The newer or developed parts of Ahmedabad have big apartments with terraces but in old Ahmedabad, house owners lend their terraces on rent," he says adding that it costs 16,000; being the minimum amount. "People just go with their family to celebrate the festival on the terraces as the owners make sure to provide them with enough kites and music," he adds.
'Uttarayan is not just a festival'
As we spoke to Samarth Raut, a resident of Vadodara about the festival, his opening statement was - "Uttarayan here in Gujarat, is not about the festival, people are mad about many things related to the festival." Some of those things that he loved to highlight were the Gujarati dish called Undhiyu and Chikki.
Talking about the environment during Uttarayan, Raut mentions, "These two days, people listen and dance on the DJ more than anything else. Even all the radio stations play 'DJ party songs' for the whole day so that people can enjoy it on the radio too," adding that he thinks such is the environment that is nowhere except for Gujarat during the festival. As a matter of fact, playing music and DJ on the terraces during the festival is a recent development in the style of celebration and many houses have been following the new norm.
On the other hand, Raut and his family have been preparing threads at home for a long time now. It is a tradition in the families to make threads for the kites and Raut's family ensure that they also make it for the kites. As a result of this, Raut says, a room in his house gets full of kites a week till the last day of Uttarayan. The festival also becomes an excellent chance for them to visit their relatives on both days. "My friends and I make plans together for the festival, have fun together. Uttarayan has a special place in our house for everyone," Raut added.
While Raut shared fond memories of the festival celebrated at home, he has not forgotten the scenes at the International Kite Festival. when he was a primary school student, he would often think that it is a regular kite festival but when he visited there, his perceptions changed. He was amazed to see multiple life-size kites for the first time and calls it a "jaw-dropping" moment.
The joy of 'Kai Po Che'
Not only the larger-than-life kites are witnessed in Gujarat but also the phrase, 'Kai Po Che' meaning, "I have cut". It would not be wrong to say that phrase is heard from almost every house in Gujarat on Uttarayan. Runali Chedda, a resident of Surat says that the festival is all about pleasant weather, kite flying, family and friends gatherings, dancing on terraces, eating jaggery chikkis and screaming "Kai Po Che" on top of the voice.
Long back, when she was in her 7th grade, she tied knots for almost 50 kites one night before Uttarayan and woke up early the next morning. The excitement was such that she flew kites and even had her lunch on the terrace. "I remember coming downstairs in the evening when my face had a tan line right below my sunglasses," she says adding that she even flaunted the tiny cuts as they were the "glory signs of the number of kites cut". "I slept with a feeling of victory and perhaps, I was screaming 'Kai Po Che' even in sleep.
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Along with remembering the old days, Chheda says that even in the present time, Uttarayan starts a few days before the real festival for her. "From getting the sharp thread done for kite flying to purchasing kites, jaggery sweets are part of preparations," she says. On the day, she plays party music on the terrace and flies kites with friends and family. In the evening, on the other hand, when it gets dark, she used to fly a steady white kite and leave a line of lanterns on its thread which, she says looked "magical".
While the lanterns appear extremely amusing in the sky, the same is now a forgotten tale in Gujarat, says Pranvi Kalpesh Bardolia, another resident from Surat hinting towards the ban on Chinese lanterns owing to safety concerns. But that doesn’t stop her from celebrating Uttarayan in full force. She starts her day by offering Moong dal, Raw rice, Bor, Bananas, Til laddoos and Sugarcane to god during puja after which ‘Fafda Jalebi’ is served for the breakfast. Peanut chikkis, Chora dal pakodas, Locho, Khaman along with Basori are other traditional dishes which Bardolia says it is important for the Gujarati families on Uttarayan. “We boil the milk of 2 litres to make it 1 litre and add Anjeer, and Kesar in the thick milk,” she says adding that going to the terrace and flying kites are other norms.
Along with the usual, however, there is a lot of change being observed in the festival brought in by the youth in Gujarati families. For instance, as Bardolia is gearing up to celebrate the festival, she is going to refrain from flying kites. “Although I don’t know how to fly a kite, I am even giving up trying this time as the strong manjha used as the thread for the kites harms the birds and leaves them badly injured,” she says. Having said that, Bardolia has planned to feed the birds on her terrace this Uttarayan and enjoy it with her friends.
According to her, the festival, which once used to be a great way of zeal and excitement for the women and older generation of the family earlier, is not “as thrilling” for them nowadays. “Previously, the elders and the women in the family used to indulge themselves in various cultural festivities of Uttarayan but as I can see, they now choose to be subtle with it,” she says adding that she could not figure out any possible cause for the same.
As Bardolia says, it is hard to determine the causes but one could second that the advancement in technology with a boom in the telecommunication industry could have a pivotal role to play in turning off the interest in the festival. During such a time, it is a gratifying fact to gather that the youth in Gujarat, like the above ones, has been upholding the traditional ethos related to the festival, even with a few modifications.