Paper Kites of India

Craft, Handloom, Art

Paper Kites of India

Mohan, Ranjana


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.

Although the origins of kites are lost in legend there are references in Hindu mythology to gods and goddesses taking part in kite-flying contests. Kite flying and kite fighting continues to be a popular sport in modern India and draws large crowds, regularly, for massive contests.Colourful handmade kites or patangs rule the Indian skies round the year. But, it is with Makar Sankranti, celebrated on 14 January (one of the few festivals of India based on the solar calendar – the period when the sun moves into the Northern hemisphere, causing changes in the air pressure, and hence creating gusts of wind) that the kite season begins. In cities like Jaipur and Jodhpur in Rajasthan and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, the sky is awash with thousands of kites at this time of the year.
For the patang-saaz or kite-maker, the fashioning of a kite is a skill. The size, shape, frame, weight, joints and tail all determine the balance and stability of a kite and therefore how high a kite will fly and how responsive or stable it will be to a tug of the wrist or a gust of wind.With forests in India having virtually disappeared, bamboo for making the frame of the kite comes from Assam. The saw or aari is used for cutting the bamboo into long narrow strips. A smaller sharp-bladed knife is used to cut the bamboo strips into a fine bow and arrow, which span the length and breadth of the kite (kamaan and thida).The paper is cut into the size of the kite, using a pair of scissors or a paper cutter. If there are two colours then two kites will be made simultaneously, in reverse colours – for nothing is wasted. Technically, there will be as many kites made together as the colours used. Kite paper is tougher than ordinary guddi paper (which crumples easily) as it has more tensile strength.

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.

Kites, today, come in all colours, shapes and sizes. They are made of polyester or of tissue coloured paper. Square kites have given way to more interesting shapes: such as fish and birds shapes and are more decorative. The final test of a kite, however, continues to be whether or not it can fly and how easily. A fish shaped kite made by Asif Mian, a national awardee, when tied to a pole is reputed to have flown for two hours by itself before finally coming down. A kite could fetch anything from Rs 5 to Rs 80 though some highly decorative kites could cost up to Rs 3,000 and more.

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