When people from outside Ahmedabad ask me what is the best time in the year to come down to the city, I always tell them to come either during Navratri or Uttarayan if they wish to see the real spirit of Gujarat. These are the two festivals that the Ahmedabad-vaasis love like anything and the city is at the peak of passion. The 9 nights of Navratri and the 2 days of Uttarayan and Vaasi Uttarayan see Ahmedabadis enjoying with full fervour. I am not saying that they don’t enjoy the other festivals, but these two are special to Gujarat – the flavour of Gujarat.
Check out this song to to get a feel of Uttarayan.
Uttarayan, popularly known as Pongal or Makar Sankranti in other parts of India, is celebrated in Gujarat by flying kites and consuming Chikki, Undhiya and Jalebi. Normally, Uttarayan falls on the 14th of January, and the next day, i.e. the 15th, is celebrated as Vaasi Uttarayan. It signifies the end of ‘Kamurta’ i.e. ‘the bad period’ during which no good tasks such as marriages, purchase of houses or vehicles or other new ventures are undertaken. It heralds the arrival of summer and the harvest season. Though I have never been interested in flying kites, I have always enjoyed seeing the people in action year after year. Uttarayan has always signified for me new hopes, a fresh start.
Uttarayan brings to mind lots of cherished memories for me:
Kites and firkis: Come Uttarayan and every nook and corner in the city has a kite and Firki stall. The wooden reel on which the Maanja for flying kites is wound is known as ‘Firki’ in Gujarati. Some of the kites are really unique and creative, and I love looking around. 🙂
I remember going with my cousins when I was a kid to special markets set up during the season for buying kites and Firkis in bulk, the different varieties of kites like Cheel and Tukkal on display, the bargaining and fixing up a price for the merchandise purchased, and the sense of pride on their young faces on having achieved a great bargain. I remember the hours of preparation of the kites for flying and holding the Firki for my cousins for the most part of the day, while they flew the kites on the terrace. Occasionally, I would be given a chance to hold the maanja and feel the kite flying gracefully and effortlessly, high in the sky. Uttarayan inevitably used to mean a visit to my cousins’ place when I was in school, where I remember skylines dotted with kites, and the beautiful Tukkals shining like stars in the night sky. Tukkals are nothing but larger kites which are flown at night, with candles in them. My cousins’ passion for kite flying has comparitively declined, but my passion for kite watching still remains the same. 🙂
Recent memories of Uttarayan include those of the International Kite Festival held in Ahmedabad every year, wherein people from all over the world come down to fly kites. I have never had the opportunity to witness this event, but it is splashed all over T.V. and the newspapers.
Informal get-togethers and shared meals: Uttarayan brings memories of get-togethers of neighbours, relatives and friends. On this day, people begin flying kites on their terraces early in the morning, so cooking takes a back seat. Traditionally, people cook one dish per family and bring it up to their terraces. A number of families share their food and there’s a bit of everything for everyone. My early memories of Uttarayan include such get-togethers. It is a lovely feeling, warm and friendly. 🙂 Now, of course, times are changing.
Til Chikkis: Come Uttarayan and, along with kites and Firkis, you will see Chikki and Undhiya-Jalebi stalls all over Ahmedabad. Til Chikkis, made from jaggery and sesame seeds, serve as an easy and quick snack for those busy flying kites. I remember the times when the ladies of the house used to make Til Chikki in bulk and we, the kids, used to carry it to the terrace, part of which used to go into our mouths in the process. 🙂
Undhiyu and Jalebi: On the eve of Uttarayan, you will inevitably find Undhiyu and Jalebi in almost every Ahmedabadi’s home. It is a tradition to eat these two items on this day. Undhiyu and jalebi worth crores of rupees is sold in Ahmedabad every Uttarayan. Both the dishes, especially the Undhiyu, are just yummy! 🙂 Sometimes, instead of making it on the gas, Undhiyu is made on the traditional wood-fire, using a pot. In this case, it is called ‘Maatla Undhiyu’ (Undhiya made in a pot) and is supposed to taste better than the other version. I have never had an opportunity to treat my taste buds to this, though. There are Matla Undhiyu parties before and during Uttarayan all over Gujarat, during which friends and relatives gather together and cook the dish in huge pots together, though I have never been to one.
Memories of the family sitting together and eating Undhiyu and Jalebi come to mind whenever I think of Uttarayan. 🙂 Lots of fun, lots of laughter, a lot of good-hearted teasing. 🙂
Noise: For me, both Navratri and Uttarayan have always been synonymous with noise. At times, it has been fun to be part of the noise, while it has not been so much fun at other times. Uttarayan sees loud music blaring from speakers all over Ahmedabad as people fly kites on their terraces. Occasionally, there is the sound of drums and small mouth organs renting the air when a kite is cut. Oh, and how can I forget the war cries of ‘Kaipo Chhe’ (I have cut a kite, in typical Gujarati) ? 🙂 Not to mention the commotion over kites made by kids. 🙂
Time has passed and things have changed. The excitement is not the same now as it used to be, but these memories shall always be near my heart. 🙂 A get-together with close family this Uttarayan helped me rekindle these memories and I could not resist doing this post. 🙂 Check out some pics of Uttarayan 2008:
Wishing you all a (belated) Uttarayan/Pongal….