Sankranthi, Fighter Kites & Hyderabad

Sankranthi is probably the most important festival in Coastal Andhra and Rayalseema. Though not a big festival for people around Telangana where Dassera is the most important festival. While for people from the North Indian business communities Diwali is the most important festival.

However, Sankranthi for old time Hyderabadi’s is fun time. However, people get on the ‘terrace’ or roof the house to fly the fighter kites.There is drama – music, large groups accumulate, their is shouting / war cries of “kaateh” and other kites flying jargon is used whenever a kite is cut. People say the same ‘kaateh’ in their own personal way and in their own voices – each putting an emphasis on a different syllable and choosing to either say it in a long drawn out way or abruptly. The pitch is always high though!

I would not say the same environment stands true for newer settlements in Hyderabad. However, all the old settlements and neighborhoods – both rich and poor actively engage in kite flying. This cuts across religions – Hindu, Muslim, Christian & Jains. The only thing that matters is are you interested in this “sport” or not.

A few enterprising groups set up blaring music and some even install public address systems. From experts to amateurs everyone participates. For most grown-ups this is the only time they fly kites in the year. For kids – they are more likely to fly kites for several weeks before Sankranthi and a few weeks after.

Over the years, the growth of high rises and other developments have caused much changes to in the kite fighting area. A couple of decades back most people would fly kites from a open ground or from the street in front. A small number who lived in houses with a proper terrace would fly from there. Back then, the houses were ground floor or maybe 1st floor. There used to a lot of obstructions,trees & electric poles.

Now with the proliferation of flats – the trees and electric poles has ceased to be a hindrance. God help those who live in a 2 floor building with a 5 floor apartment in front. They just cannot do much kite fighting from their building. However, with people flying from different heights – it does make kite fighting more complicated. There are so many angles of the kite line. Earlier everyone was flying from the same level so it was far more simple

With several innovations, ease of travel and courier service is changing the dimensions of kite fighting. Over a decade back, the “manja” (pounded glass coated thread)from Bareilly first started being sold in Hyderabad. This manja would have no knots in the entire manja charak (spools), dark in color (so kite line is not seen easily) and was inexpensive so kite flyers started using a lot more manja. More recently, any development in one area of India is now copied or distributed to another area. One friend gets his manja from Rajkot thanks to his aunt and claims it is far superior to the Hyderabad manja.

What I am driving it is that these innovations or changes forced fighter kite flyers to alter their techniques and methods.More recently, the introduction of nylon thread rather than cotton thread for making manja forced people to change their technique and methods. Being both stronger and also having different properties it does give advantages to a person flying fighter kites with Nylon Manja.
Thousands of people are employed in making these kites in Old city, who work throughout the year to have the kites ready for this seasonal festival. I am not sure the traditional Manja makers in Hyderabad have changed to adapt to the new developments.

As people seek positions of advantage in order win more kite fights. I am pretty sure today’s developments are not the end of innovations. As more kinds of new thread materials are adapted they will find a way into the world of fighter kites. So as we end today, after an entire day of loud and continous shouts of “Kaateh” filling the ears – we bid adieu to the Sankranthi. We may be a bit tired, have a dark tan, have many cuts on the fingers but hopefully many of you are content with the scorecard or the fun you had this Sankranthi.

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