Considered one of the most ancient Hindu festivals, Makar Sankranti is celebrated in different parts of the country with great fanfare. Dedicated to the sun god, the festival marks the arrival of spring and is associated with different traditions. Flying kites, preparing traditional sweets with jaggery and sesame seeds and taking holy dip in rivers form an integral part of it, as does meeting with loved ones and exchanging greetings and sweets. Uttarayan, the six-months period between Makar Sankranti and Karka Sankranti (the day that marks the movement of the sun into Karka rashi) marks the northward movement of the earth in the celestial sphere. People continue with their celebrations during Uttarayan as colourful kites adorn the sky. However, much like all other traditions, there is a reason why people fly kites during Makar Sankranti and in the days that follow the festival. This year Makar Sankrati is on January 14 and Karka Sankranti falls on July 16. According to Hindu tradition, the six-month period of Uttarayan is considered as a single day for the god.
From the morning of Makar Sankranti, colourful kites can be seen wafting in the sky and this continues throughout Uttarayan. The festival that marks the arrival of the harvest season also marks the end of winter. Traditionally, it was believed that winter brought in a lot of germs and caused illness and flu. Thus, a huge number of people would turn up during Makar Sankranti and in the following months to bask in the early morning sun, hoping to get rid of bacteria and also fly kites in the process. The act of flying kites was said to have been initiated to make this act more exciting.
Of course, the symbolism of kites flying up to the heavens during Makar Sankranti and Uttarayan could be deeper. Many consider flying kites high up into the sky as a form of thanksgiving to the gods. It is also considered as a signal for their awakening as it is generally believed the gods have been taking rest and sleeping for the last six months, and now it’s time to wake up. The clear, blue sky during Makar Sankranti and Uttarayan also present an ideal scenario to fly kites.
Over the years, the tradition of flying kites has been taken very seriously. In places like Gujarat, flying kites and competing with others is regarded as one its biggest festivals. Scores of people from not only around the country, but across the world, come to participate in the annual International Kite Festival (Uttarayan), the preparations for which begin months in advance.