What fireworks are to the United States, kites can be to India.
Aug. 15 marks the anniversary of the Asian nation’s 1947 independence from the United Kingdom, and many of the people of India celebrate their freedom by flying brightly colored aerial toys.
To mark the occasion, Gujarati Samaj of Greater Pittsburgh hosted Community Fun Day at Fairview Park in South Fayette Township, complete with kites imported from India.
“There are multiple colors. There are multiple styles,” South Fayette resident Ketu Shah said while greeting guests at the Aug. 11 event. “They get the kites, and they all enjoy.”
Her husband, Priyesh, is president of Gujarati Samaj, a cultural organization that promotes the heritage of Gujurat, India’s westernmost state. Each year, the group holds a festival that features food, music and cultural activities related to the members’ native land.
“This year, we took it a step further and involved other community organizations,” Priyesh Shah said, with the intention of adding a multicultural element to the event.
Kite flying, of course, has broad appeal worldwide. But the activity particularly is popular in Gujurat, where the city of Ahmedabad hosts the International Kite Festival in January as part of the celebration of the harvest-related holiday Uttarayan, also known as Makar Sankranti.
As a form of celebrating India’s independence, kite flying has its roots in a political statement of the late 1920s.
Patriots wrote the slogan “Go back, Simon” on kites to protest the Indian Statutory Commission, a group studying constitutional reform and named after its chairman, Sir John Simon. Each of the seven men on the commission was a member of British parliament, with no representatives from India invited to help shape the region’s future.
Community Fun Day guests had the opportunity to assemble their kites before attempting to get them airborne in a light breeze. Sometimes that required some skilled maneuvering, which the veteran flyers were able to demonstrate for the relative novices.
Another tradition of India is the art of mendhi, and plenty of guests had their skin decorated by artist Rekha Rane, who has had a business called Natural Henna Tattoo for 20 years.
“It’s a plant base, so there is no chemical at all,” she said about the substance that she applies. “It’s only lemon juice added, with sugar. Marinate it all night, and the next day the paste is ready.”
She explained that the practice began as a way of beating the heat, as the dye derived from the plant Lawsonia inermis tends to have a cooling effect on the body.
“That’s how the decorations came,” Rane said. “It stains you, so why don’t you just decorate with beautiful designs?”
Community partners for Community Fun Day were the Indian Community Center of Pittsburgh, United Seniors Association of Pittsburgh, Hindu Jain Temple of Monroeville, Radio Dhoom (WMNY-AM) and the Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends 1K/5K Walk/Run, scheduled for Sept. 14 at the North Park Boathouse in McCandless.