Friday, February 17, 2012


A paper kite flying over Old Dhaka

Flying Kites at Pouch Sankranti

Who needs an excuse for a celebration? In Dhaka, on January 14th every year (it is rumoured that in a Leap Year like this, it could be 15th! But we saw no evidence of that this year), the young people of the Old City celebrate Pouch Sankranti.

Kites for sale in Old Dhaka

Dhaka, as the many temples and shrines bear mute testimony, was once a predominantly Hindu city, and Pouch Sankranti is the last day of the Bengali month of Pouch, which has its traditions in ancient harvest festivals with a strong animist flavour.

Kites flying over the skyline of Dhaka in celebration of the festival

Whatever the cause of the celebration, the Kite Festival probably goes back as far into the mists of time as the festival immortalised in Khaled Hosseini’s, ‘The Kite Runner’, as the heart of this day’s kite flying is also the drama of kite fighting and kite cutting.

Days before, the shops of the Old City are full of kites of many colours and designs, together with the great hand rolls of thread. 

The real work of the aficionados lies in the mixing of the gel and the ground glass which, when applied to the kite threads, is capable of cutting through the threads of other kits. Aerial combat at its most primitive!

Dhaka Kite Festival, 2012

From early afternoon, the rooftops of the city are crowded with the young people fulfilling this rite of passage. Whilst the old hands say there was a time when the sky was full of kites, today the young men, especially, drag themselves away from their video games in sufficient numbers to make the spectacle quite thrilling.

As the twilight rapidly falls beacons illuminate the skyline and it is then that the Fire eaters take to the kerosene.

Fire Eaters at the Pouch Sankranti festival

‘Great balls of fire’ may, to many, be a cliché of early Rock and Roll, but here on the night skyline of Dhaka as a festive day  draws to a close, it is easy to see just what it means, and the bravado that makes it such a show.

Blowing Fire, Bangladesh

The festival may have its roots in tradition, and even in the ancient Hindu religion that evolved from its prehistoric roots in the lands around this ancient city, but the integration, even fusion of the four great religious traditions of Bangladesh, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam, is conspicuous in this ancient capital which today houses one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, the Suni Muslims of Bangladesh.

Kite flying is popular across the South Asian region and can be seen any evening in many of the ancient towns.   Once a year though, in this teeming, densely populated old capital on the banks of the Old Ganges, the skies and skyline are taken over by this spectacle; the most harmless fighting tradition imaginable.

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