Whatever may be the avatar of the kite, its basic elements have remained more or less the same.
The kite body is usually made of a special quality of very thin paper, foil, or packaging paper. It is essential that the kite paper be thin as it is more responsive to maneuvering. The support framework on the kite is made from thin bamboo sticks.
The types of materials used for the kite body are presented in the previous section, 4c. Materials.
The Indian kite-“patang” needs either the “saada” or “manjha”- a special type of string, and a wooden or plastic spindle or thread holder- “fukri,” or “chakri” to make it soar in the skies.
Support framework: Two bamboo sticks, placed perpendicular to each other give simple, but effective support to a basic Indian kite body. Large kites, fancy kites, and special kites use more sticks as per the kite design.
Basic support framework of two perpendicular bamboo sticks
A fancy kite with more bamboo sticks forming the framework
Bamboo is the preferred support material, for its lightness and easy availability. Usually, pre-shaped, straight, bamboo sticks of desired sizes are sourced by large-scale kite makers. This ensures uniformity and eases while making the kites.
Trimming of a bamboo stick during the actual making of a kite
Sticks are thick for large kites and thin for smaller kites. Large quantities of sticks in the numbers of 10,000 to 15,000 are sourced from Assam or Jharkand, where bamboo is available in plenty. These sticks are then trimmed a little bit while the kite is actually being made.
Bundles of pre-sized, bamboo sticks at a kite maker’s shop.
Fikri /reel/chakri The basic Indian reel also known as “chakri” or “firki” is a lathe-turned wooden spool with handles projecting from either end, with a large central core. This central cylinder could be made of wood or can be made of bamboo strips set at regular intervals between the plates at either end.
Along with the kites, each kite shop displays a large number of kite reels, known as some hung in clusters, some hung from ceilings and some at the shop front as can be seen in the images below.
Reels come in various sizes. A small reel is about 6inches long and 2 ½ inches in diameter. The standard size is approximately 14inches long and 4 ½ inches in diameter. There could be reels in between these two sizes as there really is no standard size for reels.
The reels are usually made of softwood like jackwood, punkhi, and hale. Reels made of hardwoods like walnut, teak, and rosewood are more expensive and are generally not available in regular kite shops.
The handles of the reels are turned on wooden lathes and are first coated with bright watercolour pigments, followed by a thin coat of clear varnish, or lacquer which not only protects the bright undercoat colour, gives a smooth finish, and also makes the reel more durable, keeping it resistant to insects.
Different regions across India use different types of reels. Some regions may have rim holes along the top and bottom plates, metal inserts, decorative elements, finer craftsmanship and finish too.
The reels above have metal inserts in the top and bottom plates in an attractive pattern as a decorative element
But some may be plain, undecorated, with just a coat of varnish. In all these types of reels, the functional excellence of the reel remains the sole purpose.
Along with traditional wooden reels, modern-day has brought in moulded plastic reels, which are mass-manufactured easily. These cannot match the look and feel of wooden reels, rarely have any decorative element, but serve as functional companions and have a large-scale acceptance with the kite flyers.
Different types of thread, firkis/reels
Small, plastic moulded firkis/reels
A bunch of plastic and wooden firkis/reel
Some of these plastic reels imitate the traditional reel design completely and may have aluminium spindles too, thus making the reels more light in weight.
There are several regions in India, especially in Tamil Nadu, where the kite flyers do not use a reel. Kites are flown directly off balls of glass-coated line or large loops of thread around 3 ft in diameter.
Though reel makers are scattered throughout India, Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh is a major centre for the manufacturing of and exporting of reels.
Kite flying thread
The thread is the other important element for flying a kite. The quality of the thread ensures the airworthiness of a kite and also the maneuverability in the sky. The two types of threads used for kite flying are saadi and manjha.
Saadi: Plain thread that is used to fly the kites, is known as “saadi”. This is made of cotton. This could be plain white in colour or could come in colours like orange, blue, pink, green. The coloured cotton saadi, is usually preferred by young boys.
Manjha: This is a material that is used to coat the first portion of the kite flying line, just below the kite or even the entire line, which helps in the Indian kite fighting or “pench”.
The manjha allows the kite to be cut off effortlessly from the sky. It is a paste made from sticky rice and powdered ground glass.
In India, where kite flying is synonymous with kite fighting, the kite is always flown with a cutting line. The use of manjha distinguishes the Indian kite string from the kite string of other countries. It also distinguishes the notion of kite flying from the rest of the world.
Manjha threads are more expensive than plain cotton thread.
Manjha making procedure:
The rice is cooked to a soft consistency and mashed into a fine paste. To this is added powdered glass, colouring pigments in certain proportions to get a smooth coloured lump. The most popular colours for the manjha are vivid and brilliant- turquoise blue, vivid orange, dark green, royal blue, dark violet, dark green, and lemony yellow. These colors look extremely attractive on the reel. The purpose of using bright colours in the manjha is to be able to identify one’s own kite line, when a large number of kites are flying in the sky.
Long lengths of cotton thread are tied between two or more wooden posts fixed into the ground, 20 to 30 feet apart. The coloured manjha paste is applied to this long length by a person who walks the distance back and forth along the thread applying a fine and even coat, on 4 lines at a time, each line separated with his fingers. This hand technique is a well-practised art.
The manjha application on the thread can be light, medium or heavy. The light coating is called “bareek manjha”. A lightly coated line increases the maneuverability of a kite and offers less wind resistance. More than cutting other kites, flying is improved. This type of manjha is cheaper than jhaada manjha. A reel of this thread can cost Rs.170- 200 per reel.
A thick coating of manjha is called “jhaada” or “panda” manjha. A heavily coated line can swiftly cut the opponent’s line, but drags the kite down and offers more wind resistance and less maneuverability. A reel of this thread can cost Rs.250 – 300 per reel.
Sometimes, manufacturers have secret formulas to create a special quality of manjha. They add items like milk cream or malai, isabgol, tej leaves, eggs, and several other unique elements in proportions that are closely guarded secrets, along with the rice paste and powdered glass.
Dangers of using Manjha thread:
The manjha thread has to be handled with care while flying a kite. People sometimes wrap their fingers in Bandaid, or adhesive tape, to protect their fingers from the glass powder.
Manjha thread can be dangerous to people standing on rooftops, or streets, to cyclists and to people driving two-wheelers. During a kite fight, as the cut kite swoops down, the line when falling to the ground can cut the body parts of people coming in its way. There have been many incidents where the manjha thread has slit the throats of two-wheeler drivers. In fact every year during the festival of Makara Sankranthi, people are warned to be careful of the kite's lines.
The manjha is wound on fikri from a large spool fixed to an electric motor. Large quantities of thread – around 900metres is available in reels, this is wound on the firki.
The images below, show the process of winding the firki.
Nowadays some kite flyers are using nylon thread to fly the kites. This is lighter in weight than the cotton thread and is available in a large number of colours as can be seen below.
A length of nylon thread being bought for flying a kite by some boys