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Bahrain’s sky is set to be awash with colour later this month as thousands of kites will be flown touching the clouds to mark the annual Gujarati International Kite Festival of Uttarayan.
Gujarat is a state in Western India, and each year its people celebrate Uttarayan, which marks the days in the Hindu calendar when winter begins turning to summer.
The ‘Mega Kite Festival’ will be held on January 26 from 10am-5pm, and the Shri Gujarati Samaj Bahrain, a society which represents around 10,000 Gujaratis in Bahrain, will host thousands of people in the Sakhir Desert Camp and release the cool creations into the air.
Details were unveiled at a launching ceremony staged at the S Hotel’s seventh floor banqueting suite. “The flying kites are a hugely significant event for the people of Gujarat and we wanted to bring this traditional annual celebration to Bahrain for our community to enjoy and to share it with our Bahraini friends and other expats,” said society president Taral Parekh.
The event will feature a plethora of activities, particularly for children. There will be bouncy castles, face-painting, pony rides, kite decorating and a treasure hunt, whilst the area will also feature numerous food and game stalls and live music will be performed on a special stage.
Kites of all shapes and sizes will be flown and the main competition involves a battle of kite-flying skills with the aim of cutting the strings of rivals, bringing down their kites and remaining the only one in the sky. For this, competitors pick their favoured kite-makers who make strong resilient kite bodies with springy bamboo frames and kite-paper stretched to exactly the right tension.
Historians suggest that India created the tradition of kite-fighting which was supported by royalty, who found the sporting activity entertaining and as a way to display their skills and power.
It began as ‘a sport for kings’, but over time, as the activity grew in popularity it began to reach the masses.
Kite flying has been a regional event in Gujarat for several years. However, the first International Festival was celebrated in 1989 when people from all across the globe participated and showcased their innovative kites.
During the festival week the markets are flooded with kite buyers and sellers. In the heart of Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat, there is one of the most famous kite markets, Patang Bazaar, which during the festive week opens 24-hours-a-day with buyers and sellers negotiating and buying in bulk.
Many families in Gujarat start making kites at home months in advance and set up small shops in their own homes.
It has not been without controversy either. “For a lot of people, kite flying is no longer a recreational sport. Flyers are using dangerous strings, and the harmless cotton strings have been forgotten,” Mehul Pathak, founder of a kite flying club in Gujarat, told journalists.
Some had been coated with metal or crushed glass mixed with glue, to help cut the strings of rival kites in hotly-contested flying contests. And more recently, flyers started using nylon strings laced with glass, which were stronger, and more dangerous, than regular kite strings. These strings did not snap easily and were blamed for the deaths of two children and a man who were killed after their throats were slit by kite strings in 2016.
As a result the authorities cracked down to make kite-flying safe again. In some parts of Pakistan, police arrested kite-flyers and seized thousands of the rogue contraptions and in India officers organised street plays and school programmes on the dangers of flying kites with dangerous strings.
The Bahrain show organisers will ensure no dangerous practices will spoil their event.
Kites themselves have been around for thousands of years and they are a part of many different cultures around the world. From an aerodynamics point of view, two of the most important users of kites were US flying pioneers, the Wright brothers. In 1899, as they were developing their theories for the control of an aircraft by using wing warping, they built a small manoeuvrable kite to verify their ideas.
Between 1900 and 1903 they would often fly their gliders as unmanned kites at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. These experiments led directly to their successful 1903 aircraft.
While the forces on all kites are the same, each kite flies a little differently. Some kites are highly manoeuvrable and some are incredibly stable.
There are kites with multiple control lines that can perform stunts, while other kites can be flown to high altitudes. Flyers can use mathematical techniques to calculate the altitude at which a kite is flying.
For more information and tickets, visit www.shreegujaratisamajbahrain.org or call 33226006.