The passion and enthusiasm for kite fighting, as against kite flying, is what singles out India, from other kite flying nations. The skies are open and any kite in sight is fair game!
Consisting of a light bamboo frame covered with smooth tissue paper, kites in India are flown from rooftops and open grounds mostly as a sport, but also at festivals, on national occasions, to mark seasonal changes, and to invoke benign weather and rich harvest(s).
In India, flat fighter kites of a single or double colour are most commonly used. They are highly manoeuvrable, stable and fly in the direction they are pointing in. The fighter is basically a flat kite, but when the wind puts pressure on the face, the bow flexes in a curve. This makes the kite stable and allows it to fly easily.
The cut paper is then attached to a thin bamboo frame – first the arrow and then the bow, using paper and gum. The bow maintains a curve that keeps the paper stretched and gives the kite flexibility while flying. The tail is an important part of the kite, and is further strengthened using small bamboo pieces to lend weight and for stability. It is the only part of the kite that has double paper, with the bamboo pieces between the two sheets.
The edge of the tissue paper is strengthened using a very fine cotton thread; the paper is then folded over and glued to form an edge. This ensures that the kite does not tear. (Cotton thread is used as glue does not stick on nylon thread.) The gum used is home-made, using flour/maida, water and neela tota, a mild poison. This home-made gum is lighter than Fevicol and is thus preferred. Often now, bright, shiny polyester paper is also being used – this is tougher and more expensive and is generally not used for sporting purposes.
The kite-maker uses only rudimentary tools that include a knife, a pair of scissors, a board, a pestle and mortar, a ‘dulla‘, a round earthen vessel to hold water, and a big shell with which to polish the paper.
The manja or the thread that flies the kite is no ordinary thread. It is specially treated with fine ground glass, chemicals and rice powder paste to give the cutting edge. The sharper the manja the better the kite fights. There are no quality standards and the sharp manja has been known to cause deaths.
‘Rampur, famous for its chakku (penknife) is also known for its kites. The kites are known for the tensile strength of their frames and hence last longer. Customers are willing to pay a little extra to fly a Rampuri kite. To the daman of the Rampuri kite is tied the choli of the Bareilly manja or thread which flies the kite’, says Asif Mian a master craftsman and National Award winner, also in the business.
Bhai Mian, another national awardee, is a jeweller by tradition but his passion for kites is stronger. He makes decorative kites and is confident that he can fly each one. He has won contests at festivals and has made a kite of 300 feet in the shape of a serpent and flown it. Not just this, Bhai Mian has flown 150 kites together, tied on a single string at a distance of 2 yards each.