The swastika

Many of the pictures that I’ve posted on my travels to India include an image that might have surprised some of you.

Symbols

Symbols

This photo is of the place where Mahatma Gandhi’s mother gave birth to him. The house is now a museum/shrine and my father and I visited it in Gandhi’s hometown of Porbandar last month. My post on our trip prompted a response from my friend K.S. back in Dallas who wrote: “Again I have learned something new and interesting from you. I only knew the Swastika as a Nazi symbol so was surprised to see it in your photos. I now know that it dates back to ancient India and literally means ‘to be good’ and is considered a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism. What a shame the Natzi Party bastardized it.”

For more than a decade now, India and being Indian has been a little more cool; Westerners are more familiar with our culture(s) and our cultural idiosyncracies. A few years ago, there was even a show on network TV set in an Indian call center. People have heard about Bollywood and there’s “Lie of Pi” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

But, still, for most people in the West, the swastika is first associated with Nazis, not Hinduism – even though the symbol has been used as a good luck emblem not only by us but by Buddhists and Jains as well. Swastikas have appeared on petroglyphs in Armenia, a gold necklace in ancient Iran and on Greco-Roman coins.

K.S.’s remark reminded me of a story from my childhood. We had just moved to Texas and my Dad’s nurse was visiting our home for the first time. It was our family’s first stand-alone house, brand-new and seemingly huge, with a big backyard and enough bedrooms to give my brother and me our own rooms. It was also the first house that either of my parents could call their own. Neither of their families had the means to own their own homes in India, and eight years after arriving in America with very little money, they had now built and owned their own home. Looking back now, I realize just how, justifiably, proud my parents must have been – proud to show it to visitors, proud to raise their young family in it.

Anyway, the nurse, whose name was Helen, was a kind person and she was a gracious guest. She just had one piece of advice on the house: Get rid of the swastikas.

I’m sure she didn’t say it quite that way. My parents had hung up Indian tapestries on the walls, which pictured pastoral scenes in the classical style. And in various places there were swastikas. This was 1979 or 1980 in Texas City, Texas. And Helen basically said that it would probably be best if we didn’t have these sorts of things displayed.

This was before I had learned anything about World War II or Nazi Germany. I just understood that, for some reason, the swastika was bad and that we shouldn’t have them around or people would think bad of us. Texas City didn’t have a big Indian community where we could find safety in numbers, or with whom we could “expose” our cultural icons without being judged.

The tapestries came off the walls. And, as I’m only beginning to understand lately, with them began a process of “hiding” my Indian-ness. Not deliberately and not out of shame, but as part of a process of wanting to fit in, normal for any new kid-turned-typical teenager. I’m Indian, certainly, just take a look at me. But I didn’t have to emphasize that. Back then, being Indian was definitely not considered cool. It just made you seem weird. And I wanted to fit in. We settled in small-town Texas, my parents raised their children and we focused on being an “American” family.

Porbandar Scenes

Porbandar, a port town located on Gujarat’s western coast, is known for being the home of Mahatma Gandhi and his family home is now a shrine/museum to his life. The home’s rooms are quite small. Climbing between flights along claustrophobic staircases reminded me of my visit to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. A swastik marks the floor in the room where Gandhi’s mother gave birth to him. We also visited Sudama Temple, named after a childhood friend of Krishna, and I walked through a swastika-shaped maze on the temple grounds. Traversing the maze is supposed to wash you of your sins. The day we were there, a Friday, was also the Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, and a celebratory parade wound through the city streets. Considering Gandhi’s message of religious tolerance, I thought the timing brought a nice addition to our visit.

Junagadh

Junagadh is mostly known as a base station for visitors to Gir National Park or for pilgrims who make the trek up Mount Girnar – 9,999 steps to complex of 866 Jain and Hindu temples scattered across five peaks. We arrived at the pilgrimage’s base in late afternoon. Climbing Palitana’s 3,800 steps took Dad and I the better part of a day so we decided this time to pay homage from below and explore the Taleti instead. The scene was the opposite of Palitana’s crush. A few pilgrims loitered about, some getting foot rubs from the masseurs who plied their trade en route. But the dholi-wallahs were gone, their dholis stacked alongside a billboard in Gujarati that advertised dholi fees by kilogram. The more you weighed, the more you paid. This seemed totally fair considering the rather hefty  people we saw being carried in Palitana.

Junagadh itself is divided into an old and new town, the older part located mountainside and called “Uparkot.” We visited the old fort/mosque, just down from the temples at Girnar. The fort, which is thought to be 2,300 years old is today little more than walls and ceiling; the sculptures of animals and people carved into pillars are largely worn down by time.

We also visited Adi-kadi Vav, a well built in the 15th century that is carved out of rock down 120 stairs. Legend has it that after the well was found to be dry, the royal priest said that water would only be found if two unmarried girls were sacrificed. Adi and Kadi were chosen and so the well is named after them. Visitors hang colored cloths and bangles on a tree nearby in their memory.

I most enjoyed the part we almost skipped. On paper, the Mahabat Maqbara seemed like another old building left to disintegrate. Built by Bahadur Kanji as a tomb for his predecessor, Mahabat Khan, it is a surprisingly well-kept example of Indo-Islamic architecture. I walked up the spire of this onion-domed tomb taking pictures for longer than I would have expected.

A day in Diu

Out of the rural marshes of southern Gujarat sits a national police checkpoint. This marks the entry to the island city of Diu, a former Portugese colony that like, Daman and Goa, were acquired by the Indian government in 1961. The three are union territories and are not governed by the states’ governments in which they lie.

The Portugese established Diu in 1535 as part of its far-flung colonial empire. They did not want to cede their colonies even at Indian independence in 1948 and by 1961, Nehru ordered the Indian military to invade. The Portugese garrison surrendered after a 48-hour bombardment. Today, Diu is a popular beach resort and, along with Daman, the only place to buy alcohol in Gujarat, which is a dry state. The Portugese mark can still be seen in the city. During an afternoon, Dad and I prowled around Diu Fort, visited St. Paul’s Church and Makata Lane, where many Portugese merchants had built their mansions.

Just outside of town, we visited Gangeshwar Mahadev, a cliffside Shiva temple. The legend is that five brothers came to the area but had nowhere to worship before eating. So they created five lingas or stones, generally used as representations of Shiva, set along the waters edge. Sheshnag, the serpent God, is carved in the rock above and watches over the lingas. Each night at high tide the risen waters cleanse the temple, leaving it fresh for each new day’s offerings by devotees.

Another interesting fact about Portugal’s former Indian colonies: When they left, they decreed that residents born there before December 19, 1961, when it ceased to be a part of Portugal and became an Indian territory, would be deemed Portuguese citizens, a right that could be extended to two generations of their descendants.

Off the grid in Gopnath

Our itinerary read “Gopnath Beach,” a place not found in my guidebook or on any map I had. “Gopnath beach is known for its scenic beauty, limestone cliffs, natural surroundings and fascinating flora and fauna.”

We drove up to windswept cliff over the Gulf of Khambat and the driver stopped in front of a faded Dreamsicle-colored one-story building. No one came out to greet us. There was no sign, no lobby of any sort, nothing to suggest that this is rest-stop for travelers and, yet, the driver said this is “Gopnath Bungalows,” where we were to stay. I wondered if we were being dropped off at someone’s house, a friend of the travel agent who wanted to make some money off of  gullible clients.

DSC_9408Dad and I exchanged “where are we?” looks and after, a few minutes, a man came out to the car. He looked sleepy, like we had woken him from an afternoon nap. He and the driver exchanged greetings and they both began to unpack our belongings from the car. Ramesh, that was the sleepy man’s name, we found out, sat on a plastic chair behind a desk on the sun-filled porch. He opened a cracked “guest register” – the spine had been taped over to keep the book together – and he wrote down “Kiran Shah.”

There was no one else about. He opened the door to room #3. Monastic, and not in a good way, came to mind. Thin mattresses were set on marble platforms attached to the wall. No rugs covered the cold tile floor. A peek into the bathroom confirmed my next suspicion: the 12-inch tall geyser would mean a cold shower or no shower at all.

Ramesh came by to say that lunch would be ready shortly so we waited outside, sitting on the porch steps, lazing like cats in the sun, and lowering our expectations regarding the meal. But we were jolted. Our food was delicious. The Katiawad menu set up on the plastic table was bountiful, hot and perfectly spiced. Through a doorway off in the corner, I spotted a small kitchen where two older ladies were making fresh rotlo on a cast iron griddle.

IMG_2411We returned to the courtyard after lunch, this time taking our plastic chairs with us. There is a playground in the middle and on the far left, cliffside, is a large wooden bungalow, faded and paint-cracked from seasons of salt air and monsoon. Built in the 1940s, it served as the beach house for Krishna Kumarasingh Bhavasingh, the then ruler of Bhavnagar. I got up and urged Dad to come with me and poke around. The house itself is locked but we walked through the yard and upstairs to the roof terrace. I stood near the balustrade – careful not to lean against it as it didn’t seem very stable – overlooking the sea and imagined royal parties here. Like many of India’s heritage sites, it’s in desperate need of upkeep. It looks far older than its 70-plus years.

We returned to our chairs and sat and talked, our voices the only noise to disturb the sound of breeze, waves and birds. After about an hour, the driver motioned us to the car. We were going into “town” to visit the local temple. Built around 700 years ago, it is one of the few, if not the only, temple to host two flags: a white flag signifies a temple devoted to Vishnu. The saffron flag denotes a shrine to Shiva.

DSC_9396Gopnath is also the place where it’s believed that Narsinh Mehta, a 15th-century Gujarati poet-saint, attained enlightenment. His poem, “Vaishava Janatho,” was Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite.

Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je [One who is a vaishnav]

PeeD paraayi jaaNe re [Knows the pain of others]

Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye [Does good to others, especially to those ones who are in misery]

Man abhimaan na aaNe re [Does not let pride enter his mind]

Vaishnav…SakaL lok maan sahune vande [A Vaishnav, Tolerates and praises the the entire world]

Nindaa na kare keni re [Does not say bad things about anyone]

Vaach kaachh man nishchaL raakhe [Keeps his/her words, actions and thoughts pure]

Dhan-dhan janani teni re

We returned to the “hotel” at sunset. The weather had changed; the wind had turned cold and it was getting brisk. Dad and I intended to read and get to bed early – not much else to do in a place without even phone service – but we ended up talking until midnight, bathed in Dreamsicle-colored light, until the howl of high tide reminded us it was time we got some rest.

Wild Gujarat

The only wildlife I had experienced on previous trips to Gujarat were the ones meandering around Ahmedabad’s crowded streets: bulls and cows, goats, packs of stray dogs. But our Saurashtra itinerary included visits to two national wildlife parks, Velavadar National Park, outside of Bhavnagar, and Gir National Park in the southern part of the state. We’re not talking the abundance of the Serengeti here. But each park is home to a number of mammal and bird species native to India. I’m glad that Gujarat has designated land for national parks and ostensibly funding preservation.

The star of Sasan Gir is the endangered Asiatic lion. Unlike its African cousin, the Asian lion does help the lioness and hunts for food. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any on our official safari. The next day we went to the Sasan Gir Interpretation Zone, which is sort of a mini-safari park, where the lions, along with other species, are kept in a combination of large fenced-in and open-space areas. That’s where we caught our glimpse of the big cats.

Both parks need some improvement on the customer-facing aspects of their experience. At Velavadar, a guide couldn’t be bothered to take us around, so we drove ourself through the park. This worked out fine for us, setting aside that this approach means no informed commentary on the wildlife. But what about if some less scrupulous visitors decided to drive off-road and into the animals’ habitat? Sasan Gir was more organized in that at least guides and drivers were made available. Their process is a little cumbersome. For some reason, the park eliminated reservations for the limited number of Jeep places available for each day. So, we had to get in line three hours in advance. Dad and I were the last two to get a place and many of our fellow line-waiters ended up waiting for nothing. I have to think some enterprising Indian software programmer could do a public service and design reservation software for Sasan Gir.

It’s interesting to read on the Gujarat Tourism’s website on Sasan Gir the candid comments by the Forestry Department on what it feels are its challenges to maintaining the preserve. Farmers from the 97 villages that surround the park often graze their livestock within the protected forest while tourists who visit the park as an “afterthought” exert pressure on the infrastructure and do little of benefit to the park or the lions. That’s an interesting assertion. I’d love to know what sort of support park officials would like from visitors.

The website also brings up a very Indian challenge. “The presence of several temples inside the park also puts strain on the ecosystem, as visitors to them also demand accommodation and infrastructure that often conflicts with the park’s conservation goals, leading to great controversy and political tension between park management and temple management.” Unfortunately, given the mounds of trash so carelessly thrown out onto the streets every day, I sadly see how difficult it must be to have these temple-goers in the park. I’m not saying that all devotees are leaving a trail of trash behind them, but I think it’s true that Indians generally have yet to behave responsibly when it comes to the environment.

The princely states

British rule over Gujarat was not whole. They only controlled about a fifth of the state, largely confined to the larger metropolitan areas such as Ahmedabad and Surat. The remainder of Gujarat was Saurashtra, and its “100 kingdoms” – it was actually about 200 – was ruled by individual royal families, albeit in cooperation with their Raj neighbors. In fact, these kingdoms were generally supportive of the British; they had signed pacts of cooperation with the British East India Co. in the early 1800s. Indian independence leaders’ activities excluded Saurashtra and the Congress party did not decide to formally include the region in its struggle until 1938, just nine years before the British quit.

The region is also known as Katiawad and the locals speak a lilting Gujarati, a sing-song quality that brings a “sweetness” of tone is how my dad describes it. I can hear it faintly. I think it will be a while, if ever, before I can distinguish among the dialects in the Gujarati language. Katiawad also has its own culinary specialities, which we ate throughout our travels. These foods include rotlo, a flatbread made of buckwheat. (I liked the way my Madhukar kaka, or father’s brother, prepared it: Crispy top peeled off in order to place a layer of gor, or jaggery, on top. Unlike many Indian men, especially of his generation, my uncle is good in the kitchen!) Vegetable preparations included ringun oro, an eggplant preparation, and tamata/sev, a mixture of tomato and sev, small crunchy noodles made of chickpea flour. It was all delicious and we ate it for nearly every meal without tiring of the tastes.

Bhavnagar

Madhukar kaka’s wife, my Asha kaki is from Bhavnagar, one of Saurashtra’s biggest cities, and so it makes sense he knows his Katiawad food! They were both there,visiting my aunt’s mother, the night Dad and I were in town so we could skip a restaurant in favor of a home-cooked meal. For its time, Bhavnagar’s rulers were progressive, setting up a modern system of civil and criminal justice, civic amenities and schools. The last ruler of the Gohil dynasty, Krishnakumarsinhji, was closely involved with the independence movement and so was one of the first rulers to submit to the new state of India.

There is not a lot these days to see in Bhavnagar; it’s a mid-sized Indian city striving for modernity like many of its peers. We did drive up to the Takhteshwar Temple, which has 360-degree views of the city and the Gulf of Khambhat below.

Palitana

Somewhat out of turn, I already wrote about our visit to Palitana, home of the Jain temple complex. It was also its own princely state  and its mountain-top location helped it defeat invaders, whether they were expansion-minded Muslims or fellow royals.

Jamnagar 

Former royal municipality turned Oil City of India. Jamnagar’s now figurehead prince lives in the Darbargadh Palace and the former summer residence in the middle of Lakhota Lake illustrate the city’s royal heritage. But the world’s largest oil refinery, operated by Reliance, is the main economic driver. The Indian air force, army and navy all have bases here, due to the proximity of the border with Pakistan. Our hotel would not allow us to check in without filling out special “Arrival of Foreigner in Hotel” paperwork and showing our passports.

After a week or so amid the villages of rural Gujarat, Jamnagar reintroduced us to the chaos of city life. Lakhota lake is the city’s main square and, in the evening, the perimeter became a market/fair, with food stalls, shop carts and mini-amusement rides for children.  Another market area was around the city’s main mosque, Ratan Bai Masjid, with its distinctive green-and-white minarets.

What was nice to see were all the Hindu names on the shops around the mosque, showing, at least in the matters of commerce, an interaction among those of different faiths. I’ve been reading a lot about the history of communal tensions in Gujarat, and a disturbing trend is the increased polarization of the communities and the lack of the sort of everyday contact that helps promote tolerance.

Another of the city’s landmarks is the Bala Hanuman temple, where devotees have chanted, “Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram” for 24-hours a day since August 1, 1964, earning it a place in the Guinness World Book of Records. During the afternoon we visited about a half-dozen men and women were sitting, chanting God’s name.

Saurashtra road trip

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 10.42.23 AM

Two days after Dad landed here, we set off on a road trip. Our plan was to explore Saurashtra, or land of “100 kingdoms,” which before Indian independence was a region made up of many princely states. From Ahmedabad, we headed south and hugged the Gujarat coastline – except for an excursion inland to Junagadh – all the way to Dwarka, the state’s most western point.

DSC_9371The tour company I hired had put together an itinerary for us for nine days of travel, (see map above,) but it was the sight-seeing in between that was no less note-worthy. Along this route there were none of the New India’s multi-lane, modern toll roads. We traversed the state largely along state highways, the surfaces of which varied from fairly decent asphalt to jaw-jarring gravel.

Along the way, we encountered humans using every kind of transport method available: walking,  bullock and camel cart, bicycle, scooter, chhakada, trucks, in addition to passenger vehicles like our own. This being India, the rules of the road are flexible. You overtake from which ever position is the safest and if you need to, driving in the opposite lane is acceptable as long as you are beeping your horn as warning to oncoming traffic.

DSC_9390Driving India’s roads is not for the faint of heart; it’s all about reflexes, knowing how and when to react even when you don’t have time to think about it beforehand.  I have to get on the record that our driver, Gopal, was great. He knew the roads we were on and the ones we were headed to, even though it had been four years or so since he had last driven tourists to these towns. And he also was an active participant in our tour, offering suggestions of places to see that were not on the itinerary and interesting commentary on the castes and customs of the people who lived in the various places.

Seeing my cameras our first day out, he suggested we stop at a village on the way to Bhavnagar to meet with some of its residents. At that time of the morning they were engaged in their usual routine, fetching water, washing clothes, but were friendly, waving and smiling for my pictures. Only the grandfather, below, seemed to be a bit more suspicious.

Our drive illustrated the bounty of Gujarat’s natural resources. We drove by innumerable acres of fields of winter wheat, onion, jeeru, cotton and other crops. The coastline is also home to natural salt farms, mounds of salt like baby icebergs rising up from the ground. (All this abundance is under threat, however. Overmining of limestone and other industrial activities, not to mention a severe drought, has meant rising levels of salinity and other toxic minerals, which makes the water undrinkable and the soil no good for farming.)

Just outside the city limits of Bhavnagar, we saw a roadside stall around which were piles of red chilies lay drying in the sun. The aroma of mirchi grabbed our noses as soon as we opened the car doors; my eyes almost watered.  A few women were preparing the raw chilies for the powdering process, while their children  played alongside. One of the items on the shopping list my mom sent to India with dad was chili powder, so we bought a kilogram. I liked the idea that we were directly supporting this business and, hey, it was half the price for chili powder you find in the market in Ahmedabad.

A divine walk

The muted buzz gives way to the intense, insistent punctuation of words spoken in rapid-fire Hindi as soon as the SUV doors open.

Sahab, dholi chaiyye? Bhen, dholi lijiye, nah?

1,100 rupees. 900 rupees. There are four-person dholis and those carried only by two. You can take turns sitting, they tell my father and me.

We are surrounded by dholi-wallahs. Dad and I grab hands so we won’t get separated as we push our way forward. There’s no way to get through the group clustered around us, so close to see the red smears of chewed paan in their teeth. No amount of Nai chaiyye – or I don’t want – spoken at first dismissively, yet politely, and then rudely, as rude as you can be, dissuades them. The dholi-wallahs close in tighter, accompanying us as we try to move toward the gate that marks the entrance.

It is a jarring introduction to Palitana, the most sacred of all Jain pilgrimage sites and a must-do for the faithful. The climb is more than 3,600 steps to reach mountain-top cluster of 3,000 marble temples carved out of marble over a period of 900 years, starting in the 11th century. From the ground, the temples look like the miniatures you see for sale at handicrafts stores all over India.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But first, we must find a way out of the suffocating swarm. I try my most rude dismissals in whatever words come to mind – in English and in my special mishmash I’ll call Hinjrati – which fall on deaf ears. I clearly am not intimidating. But even the rejections by dad, who is speaking perfect Gujarati and Hindi, are ignored. Suddenly, my father is yelling at the top of his lungs, telling them to go away, that we have no need for your services. He is shaking.

Dad is surrounded by dholi-wallahs as we walk the steps to Palitana's temples.

Dad is surrounded by dholi-wallahs as we walk.

Alarmed, I begin to aggressively shove against the dholi-wallahs. I don’t know when or if I have ever seen my dad so upset and I am now angry at these human parasites. I protectively encircle my arm around my dad’s and I yell at them to leave, Ja, ja!  I consider suggesting we abandon our excursion. But dad’s shouting seem to have some effect. Most of them walk away, their voices muted, whining that he would speak to them in such a way.

In front of us lay the steps to Palitana, carved out of the mountainside itself. I try to focus on calming down, on forgetting the disturbing swarm and the four or five dholi-wallahs still trailing us. Step 1.

The guidebooks say the climb takes a couple of hours. When we reached about the one-third mark, dad decided to negotiate with the dholi-wallahs still following us. But they insisted on the same price they quoted at ground level. We turned them down, and mercifully, they began to descend, finally leaving us alone. At this point, it’s been about an hour and we are roughly 1,100 steps up.

For the next two hours, Dad and I climb. We take regular breaks to catch our breath, gaze at the scenery and gauge just how much higher we have to go. And, most importantly, we talk.

Time for worship

Time for worship

To be honest, I’m still processing all that I heard and learned that afternoon, and what and how to write about it. (Quick fun fact: Dad encouraged mom to take music lessons and she was learning how to play sitar before she had to give it up when they moved to America.) There weren’t many surprises; it was more like the backstory was being filled in. Context was added to the history of my father’s life and our journey as a family. It was as if it was finally age-appropriate to him to share the full story with me and for me to receive it.  We talked about my mom and brother, but we also talked about my dad’s relationship with his parents and siblings, his life as a young bachelor doctor, his desire to live abroad – including an unsuccessful attempt to migrate to London – and unexpected anguish in the first few months of being a newlywed.  He spoke of dreams and heartbreak, the painful process of accepting life’s deepest disappointments and remaining optimistic anyway.

It’s a cliche to say it but I don’t think I’m gifted enough as a writer to put it any other way. That day, I was able to interact with my dad as a whole person, and not only as my father. I gained a deeper understanding of what motivates him, his passions and dreams, and amazing effort both he and my mother put out to move to America, make a life there and give me and my brother so much more they they had.

The writer in me recognizes a good story, a tale of a family through three generations, one that leaves one country for another and makes a home within a culture so different from their own. But writing about yourself is tricky and I don’t want to hurt either of my parents by writing so candidly about our history. So I’ll let the voices, the characters, the stories, rumble around my head for a little while longer.

I’m glad we didn’t let the dholi-wallahs make us abandon our trek up to Palitana and back. This day was a gift.

Looking to the Skies

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was 10 years old, on a family trip to India, when I first learned about Kite Day. Imagine, a holiday just for flying kites. Everyone was out on their rooftops flinging thinner-than-paper-thin kites into the air. The sky was littered with pastel diamonds, bobbing in the breeze. It was a day of simple joy, enjoying the mild Indian winter, out in the sunshine with family and friends, flying – and cutting – kites.

The festivities relate to Makara Sankaranti, or the transition of the Sun from Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) to Makara rashi (Capricorn) and takes place around 21 days after the tropical winter solstice (between December 20th and 23rd) that marks the starting of Uttarayana, which means northward journey of the Sun, according to Gunatit Jyot. It marks the start of harvest season and is generally considered a good time to begin a new endeavor – like perhaps a trip to Gujarat!

I wasn’t so fortunate in actually flying the kites. Despite able assists from my cousins who launched the patangs in air for me, my line-tugging skills only resulted in the kites’ fall to earth. So, I sat back, took pictures and enjoyed watching them fly their kites so high as to be mere specks of color in the sky. I cheered along when they dueled with another kite, each player furiously tugging the string to be the first to cut off the other. Eventually the cry of “lapet!” would ring in the air, signaling victory and we would watch the colored paper, now deflated, slowly drift back down to earth.

Because Uttarayan is a holiday on the solar calendar – unlike the rest of our auspicious days which fall on the lunar calendar – Kite Day happens each year on January 14, fixed. So, why do we fly kites to mark this day? Gunatit Jyot suggests: “The act stands as a metaphor for reaching to their beloved God, the one who represents the best.”