A Peek Into the Kite Making Industry in Gujarat

Read on as Sindhu Murthy explores the bylanes of one of the oldest kite markets in India.

This is the time of the year when the skies of Gujarat get filled with a plethora of kites of all sizes. The festival of Uttarayan which marks the decline of winter chills and the onset of spring is the favorite time for people to fly kites.  Thanks to the International Kite Festival promoted by the Gujarat Government, the tradition of Kite Flying has earned the attention of people from across the globe.  One industry which has been immensely benefited from the popularity of International Kite Festival is the kite making industry in Gujarat. Of late, the tradition of kite flying has been spread to many states across India and people have started to fly kites on many more occasions like Independence day and  Holi.

Kite market in Ahmedabad
Colorful Kites in Jamalpur Kite Market in Ahmedabad

The kite making is a pretty old industry in Gujarat, as old as the tradition of kite flying itself.  The artisan craft which mostly remained unorganized and unnoticed till a few decades back has now boomed into a 700 crore cottage industry. Jamalpur, a small area in the old city of Ahmedabad is considered as a hub of kite making and is the largest kite market in India. There are over a 1200 families living in Jamalpur who have been making kites for many generations.

Kite Making Industry in Gujarat

As we walked through the narrow alleys of Jamalpur,  we were welcomed by colorful kites put on display for sale. Walking further, we see the lane extend endlessly with many kite shops on either side- All filled with kites of different sizes, designs, and colors.  There were spools or firkees of colorful manja beautifully stacked in heaps(Manja is the line used to fly kites, usually coated with marble or glass powder to make it more resilient and abrasive so as to cut other kites in the kite flying competition).

Manja for Flying Kites
Spools of Manja Staked in Kite Market

It needs special skill to make kites which fly well. We were told that it involves the efforts of many people to make a kite, each person specialized in a different aspect of kite making. While one person is an expert in designing the patterns for kites, one is good in cutting the designs,  another person more versed in sticking the patterns and someone else in sticking the bamboo. To improve the quality of kites, thin tissue paper is used as the sail while the bamboo for ribs is sourced from Assam.  Tassels and frills are added to the kite which will help in making the kite stable during flight while also adding elegance to the kite.

Raw material used for making kites

Raw material used for making kites

Tassels used in Kites

Tassels used in Kites

Colorful tissue paper used in making kites

Colorful tissue paper used in making kites

It was not just the kites that caught our attention. We were also fascinated by the centuries-old houses which have stood testimony to the growth of the kite making industry in the Jamalpur area. Not much seems to have changed with the buildings since they were constructed many decades ago. The artisans have been making kites in the same buildings for many generations. If only the walls could speak, we would have heard many interesting stories of how the industry has evolved between those dusty lanes. The gray walls, green doors, old scooters, broken windows contrasting with the colorful kites made the market even more intriguing.

Old houses in the Jamalpur Kite Market
In the streets of Jamalpur Kite Market

It is interesting how the tradition of kite flying has brought together all the sects of the society barring religion, caste, creed and economic status. While the majority of the artisans who make kites are Muslims the consumers are mostly Hindus. It is the reciprocal practices as such that nurture the communal harmony in the society.

Streets of Jamalpur Kite Market in Gujarat

Besides the plethora of kite shops, there are many more shops which sell accessories such as goggles, protective gloves, caps and sun shades which are used while flying kites. Grasping the popularity of the kite flying tradition, some brands have started getting their advertisements printed on the kites.

All is not well at the kite market this year. Call it the effect of demonetization or some other factor, the streets of the kite bazaar which usually would be full of customers bear a deserted look. The shopkeepers wait with a hope that the sales would increase soon as it is just an intermittent glitch and this too would pass soon.

 

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