Socio-economic Importance of Kite-Flying Festival, Basant

At last the provincial government of Punjab has lifted ban on Kit flying throughout the province. Due to lost of some precious lives of innocent people and children in the province owning to Kit flying, it had been banned six months ago. Now, the government of Punjab has lifted ban from 20th January to 20th February 2004. Kit flying is a seasonal festival, which has vast range of socio-economic benefits to common people of the country. But it is now seemed that it has also become playground of dirty politics. MMA has launched an anti-kite-flying campaign in Lahore and is spreading its wings to make it another national issue after making compromise on LFO. According to them it is anti-human right, which is of course, damaging lives and properties in the country. Kites have played an important role in the social, military, economic, and religious life of the people of the Far East and elsewhere for thousands of years.

According to the Waltons, when kites were introduced to Europe from Asia in the 17th century, westerners acquired not only just a new and exciting sport and leisure activity, but also a medium of scientific discovery. Kites have been instrumental in our understanding of aerodynamic laws and in the development of modern aircraft. Today, kites are a multi-million dollar business around the globe. According to official statement of District Chief Nazim of Lahore, 2003, Basant had created a business of Rs.2 to 3 billion in the province and provided lot of opportunities to common people and owners of cottage industries in the country. To some independent estimates overall euphoria of Basant would generate economic activities of Rs. 4 to 4.5 billion in the province in 2004.

Majority of the people in the country are poor or living hand to mouth. They do not have enough resources of recreation and fun and satisfaction. The groups, communities, nations and countries, which are depressed by persistent societal inequalities, economic disparities, ethnic fragmentation, with having dim hope of bright future, suffer lot and seasonal festival like Basant in the sub-continent and especially in our country provide them some much needed relief from deprivation, neglect, and facilitate the atmosphere of comfort, liberty, enjoyment, peace and above all source of income through out the whole year. In many Asian countries, kites were once considered a link between heaven and earth. Japanese kites were once interpreted as tangible prayers and have always been associated with festivals and special occasions, symbolizing protection against evil or fire, good fortune, or supplication for the good health of children.

Basant is one of the biggest festivals throughout the country and especially in the city of Lahore. It is a gargantuan social event that does not revolve around a religious ritual but around putting thousands of kites into the sky to welcome the new spring season and use to fly their long awaited dreams of prosperity, security, and furthermore, love and peace in shapes of different colorful kites.

The festival called Basant is celebrated the fragrance of flowers and the explosion of colours. There is singing and dancing, laughter and joy, welcoming this beautiful season. Kit flying is a joy, which courses through every vein. It is a laughter, which does not know differences of religion, caste or creed. It should not come as a great surprise to anyone that a large number of North Indian Muslims also celebrate Basant Panchami, like their Hindu brethren. During the Han dynasty about the time of the beginning of the Christian era, kites were used in warfare. They were built with bamboo pipe that made loud noises. The enemy, believing that they were "voices of the gods" panicked and fled. In Ancient China, an eldest son’s 7th birthday was celebrated by sending off his bad luck on a far flown kite. In Pre-Mao China, every September 9th was a kite flying holiday called "The Festival Of Ascending On High." Traditionally, kites were symbols of good luck and of the soaring aspirations of the human spirit. May 5th the fifth day of the fifth month is the traditional day for kites in Japan, especially colorful kites shaped like fish that honor a family’s boys.

Although Chinese used to make their first kites over 3000 years ago but Archytas of Tarentum invented kites four centuries before the Christian era. Kites have been in use among Asiatic peoples and savage tribes like the Maoris of New Zealand from time immemorial. Originating as mythical and religious, kite flying was later used for scientific experiments. From China, kite flying spread throughout Asia to Europe and then to the Americas and Australia. Kite flying has been used for meteorological research, travel, and also for warfare. Kite-flying has always been a national pastime of the Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Tonkinese, Annamese, Malays and East Indians. It is less popular among the peoples of Europe. The origin of the sport, although obscure, is usually ascribed to religion. With the Maoris it still retains a distinctly religious character, and the ascent of the kite is accompanied by a chant called the kite-song. The Koreans attribute its origin to a general, who, hundreds of years ago, inspirited his troops by sending up a kite with a lantern attached, which was mistaken by his army for a new star and a token of divine succor.

In Korea, Japan and China, and indeed throughout Eastern and Southern Asia, even the trades-people may be seen indulging in kite-flying while waiting for customers. Asiatic musical kites bear one or more perforated reeds or bamboos, which emit a plaintive sound that can be heard for great distances. The ignorant, believing that these kites frighten away evil spirits, often keep them flying all night over their houses.

Kite-flying for scientific purposes began in the middle of the 18th century. In 1752 Benjamin Franklin made his memorable kite experiment, by which he attracted electricity from the air and demonstrated the electrical nature of lightning. Many European and American meteorological services employ kites regularly, and obtain information not only of the temperature, but also of the humidity and velocity of the air above. Kites have been used both in the army and in the navy for floating torpedoes on hostile positions. In the Russian army a military kite apparatus has also been tried, and was in evidence at the maneuvers in 1898. Experiments have also been carried out by most of the European powers.

Sufis of Sub-Continent have a long tradition of adapting to the local culture and language of the places they visited to spread their message. The Chishti sufis too, have not only tried to relate to the Indian culture and music, they even experimented and enriched the various cultural forms. Basant is a living example of religious tolerance and respectfulness of other creations of God. In the past, it was these Dargahs and Khaneqahs, which served as platforms where Muslim and Hindus could share equal religious liberty, message of purity and oneness. Basant is a tradition initiated eight hundred years ago by the famous poet Amir Khusrau.

In the U.S. there is a very rich history of the use of kites Alexander Graham Bell and his Aerial Experiment Association built huge kites capable of towing a boat or lifting a man. The Wright flyer was first flown as a kite and the Wright brothers experimented extensively with kites. There is the well-known experiment by Benjamin Franklin in researching electricity. George Eastman of Eastman Kodak used kites for aerial photography. The first line across the Niagara River to begin the construction of the bridge between the U.S. and Canada was accomplished via kite. During the World War II, Dr. Paul Garber invented the Navy Target kite. About 300,000 were built and used in the combat training of fighter pilots. In the early 1900s, the U.S. Weather Bureau now the National Weather Service used kites to record barometric pressure, temperature and humidity.

A celebration kept alive uninterrupted, unmarred by the vagaries of time. Celebrating the fragrant and colourful charms of spring, the festival of Basant Panchami, also marks the invocation of the Goddess of Learning and Knowledge, Saraswati. Inspired and enlivened by the local tradition Amir Khusru wrapped himself in yellow attire, plucked a bunch of sparkling yellow flower of ‘Sarson’ mustard and presented them to Hazrat Nizamuddin who was in deep melancholy due to a personal grief. He broke into laughter by the dress and gesture of Amir Khusru. And thus began the celebration of Basant Eight hundred years later, the tradition continues uninterrupted. Even today, Qawwali resonates in the precinct amidst serene gaiety and collective bliss on this day.

Today kite flying is a popular pastime and a competitive sport. In eastern Asia, special competitions are held in which the kites are elaborately designed and decorated in the forms of birds, fish, or dragons and may be equipped with whistles or pipes that emit musical sounds as the wind blows through them. Kite-fighting contests are also held, in which competitors attempt to use their kites to attack and down the kites of opponents.

Kites are growing increasingly popular all over the world: Australia, America, Switzerland, and South Africa. Also used for aerial photography, kites have become one of the easiest and most enjoyable hobbies. In Pakistan nowadays the Basant festival is celebrated as a national/cultural festival. Basant is the festival of kits, which covers all the sky with different colors. The sky comes alive with the joviality and colour of paper kites in all hues, shapes and sizes. It seems that sky is moving and ultimately becoming sign of inspiration and hope for millions of common people around the globe. It is the festival of colour, pure fun and exhilaration. The entire population participates in Kite-flying matches to welcome the coming of spring. Spring heralds new beginnings and the colourful kites in the sky are a statement of this joyous awakening. This festival is also known as Jashn-e-Baharan. Kite flying in the Punjab is associated with Vasant Pancham the onset of spring i.e. the Basant. Basant is a popular and ancient festival and kit-flying is an important activity associated with Basant.

The wave of Basant festival starts from Lahore to on Faisalbad, Gunjranwala and onward. It has become national occasion of celebration and enjoy. There are special live PTV and stage programs telecasted from different television stations. There are grand parties, musical programs, Punjabi Banghra and cultural activities taking place in the whole city of Lahore. The walled city is famous for the extravagant in the festivity of Basant. There are grand parties of Wine and Dine and Mujras on the roofs of walled city. The galaxy of famous film stars mostly celebrates the Basant on the roofs of walled city, Avari, Pearl and the big bungalows of Defence.

Kite flying once a pastime, has now become a passionate sport especially on the dawn of Basant. Kite flying in Pakistan socially is very similar to the Nations Cricket in USA as they both unite people from different backgrounds and across the ages. You will see many kids and adults trying to cut down each other’s kites and enjoying it. The Basant festival is one of the most spectacular festivals to happen upon the Lahore rooftops, parks, streets, and banks of the Rivi allowing the skies to burst with darting colours and the town to draw to a standstill. Initially Basant was an unpretentious festival in Lahore. But in the late 1990s, the late February weekend became the largest single but grand celebration in Pakistan. Families fly from as far as Dubai, London, Chicago, and others countries to join their kith and kin and fly their kites in celebration of the new season. Recent estimates suggest that about 9.5 million faces gaze up at a sky filled with colourful, ducking and diving, paper kites. There is great craze among the youth of the country to celebrate this seasonal festival with a unique difference.

Kite flyers prepare themselves for the Final Battle on the day of Basant. Preparations of all kinds start before the arrival of Basant. Purchase of Guddis, Patangs, Gudhas and Doars are done before the final day. Purchase of herons, big drams, and others important things are bought for the celebration this festival. Guests and friends are invited to give the honour the occasion. To-day many professional and amateur kite-flyers are gearing up for their roofs battles with their opponents and old rivals. There are famous songs spreading in the air, which are creating feelings of excitement and freshness.

Spectators and kite flyers take every inch of space on rooftops and backyards. Traditionally, people wear yellow scarves and dresses in honor of the newly blooming mustard flower. Kite fighters spend days coating their string or twine with a mixture of cut glass or sand, the better to slice as politely as possible. Islamic Ideology Council has been given its verdict and clearance on the status of Basant but is should be celebrated with decency, grace, pride not to hurt the feelings of others because it is festival of colour, fun, and friendship not the occasion of disharmony, gun or enmity.

The streets of the Lahore are full with people of all ages to catch the kites. The race and chase is on and on throughout the day of Basant. Many people with big sticks are stand in the every corner of the city to catch the kites. A group of excited children ran wildly on pavements, their eyes glued to the sky, following every movement of the kites. Basant celebrations have been blown completely out of proportion. By the help of kites many young boys use this festival to convey their feelings of hearts to their beloved. Sky is full with kites of all sizes and colours. Kite flying is also done for others purposeful matters. Prorogation of certain political ideologies, business concerns or marketing of some products is also done with the help of kites. Fragile kites being carried out using the pictures of famous national politicians, fairies of film industry, monogram of hotels, and multinational companies/corporations, are also among the others kites in the sky. Basant is now no more hobby or pastime game it is now treated as ultimate passion or wild craze.

The celebration styles of Basant have been changed with the passage of time. Basant is now used more as another means to show ones richness, influence, and might. Overindulgent friends to relish the Basant craze fly people from, Islamabad, Karachi and other cities of Pakistan especially to Lahore. There is loud music, firing in the air, daylong parties on the occasion of Basant. Business executives, deluxe hotel owners, organize splendid parties and everyone who is anyone turns the occasion into yet another display of wealth. The euphoria of prosperity culture of flashing opulence on every occasion has taken out this more than 400-year old festival to fashionable environs. Basant is not confined to places like Rang Mahal, Bhati Gate, Lohari, and Badami Bagh lay sole claim to kite flying. Defence, Garden Town, Gulberg, hotels and countless other places in Lahore pose a stiff competition to the old city.


For ages the festival has been celebrated with much enthusiasm in Lahore and others parts of the country. In Punjab, kite flying is a rooftop sport. The rooftops of inner cities/walled cities turn into virtual arenas of kite flying competitions on Basant. From dawn to dust the roofs of Lahore are full of young and old people keeping their kites afloat. By early afternoon, the sky is bedaubed, with kites of different colours. Apart from this one may also experience various flavours of the culturally rich city of Lahore. Festivals, performance by famous folk singers, dancing horses and jhumar dances, performances by cultural troupes, stalls of kites, bangles, flowers, handicrafts etc and to top it all the delicious and tempting food of Lahore all combine to make this a memorable event of your life. Lahore has become the hub of Basant celebrations. This year too the administration of local city has planed to celebrate the Basant with joy and ease. The Lahore City Government in collaboration with other agencies has drawn up an celebrate Basant and Jashan-e-Baharan festival in the different parts of the city. The PHA, under the guidance of city government, is organizing cultural programmes, especially competitions of kits flying. The main Basant function will be celebrated in Lahore Fort. The whole country especially the Zinda Dilan-e-Lahore is in the tight grips of the Basant fever.

Despite some orthodox people in Pakistan abhorring it, Basant in Lahore is celebrated with much more fanfare and colour than anywhere else today. It aims great fanfare at the Race Course Park as part of the five-weeks of Jashn-i-Baharaan carnival. The Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and a global beverage company have organized it jointly.

Musical programmes featuring various bands and solo singers would be held on daily basis. Prominent feature of the festival were the eight stalls installed by women and social workers.


Basant at night is a new concept. It adds new avenues of excitement. It creates new but unique scenes of happiness, beauty and craze. It is considered to be the peak of an profligate and lavish cultural integration. Nighttime kite flying in the walled old quarter around the 16th century Badshahi mosque and Lahore fort opens the festival. Ancient mughal palaces throw open their doors for all-night parties to view the kites, illuminated by spotlights slashing the sky. Stars from the local ‘Lollywood’ film industry perform with classical Qawali musicians at parties in traditional haveli homes. White paper kites shimmer in the night sky, diving and soaring as rival fliers joust in duels marked by battle cries of Pecha! and victory shouts of bo kata! Bursts of drums and trumpets mark the cutting of a kite’s cord.

Men drape themselves in embroidered shalwar kameeze with matching ankle-length scarves, little boys strut in three piece suits, and women coat their hands with henna and stack their arms with bangles. If you wander through the old city tonight, you will see a lot of freedom. This is the true nature of the Pakistani people. Pakistanis from across the country use to flock to Lahore for the festival, crowding the Islamabad to Lahore motorway to catch a glimpse of the flying paper fighting kites. Top hotels reported full bookings.

At Basant the sky is full of kites; the festival starts at night people fly the kites of colorful paper from their illuminated kites on display flat-topped roofs. The Basant at night carries on throughout the night and finishes at the end of the following day. The zooming kites leave colorful marks in the darkening sky taken over by brilliant white Guddis that are especially made for night kite-flying to celebrate the Basant at night. It seems to be beautiful painting by a maestro on the canvas of skies. It is seemed that roving glittering stars speculate here and there on the sky. The night of fierce dog fights between master kite fliers is meticulously arranged not only in the Walled city of Lahore but in many places of Lahore. As the shouts of "Bo-Kata" raise the temperature, the skyline lights up with brilliant fireworks and white spotlights turning night into day. Special food is prepared and dry fruit and Kashmiri tea is served throughout the period.

But even such a joyous festival has a dark side, as hospitals invariably are packed with kite flyers who fall off roofs and children who are hit by cars as they run down the streets, their faces turned towards the sky to watch the kites. Quarters of the city are plunged into darkness when razor-sharp kite cords rolled in powdered glass or made of steel cut electricity wires. Many foolish people use illegal copper, Nylon thread and Tundi to loot the maximum kites. But this nonsense act of few is damaging the national wealth and destroys the Powers System of electricity. It is estimated that if there are 50 one-hour breakdowns, it costs Rs.2.5 million to WAPDA Steel and glass-edged wires are banned but manufacturers still report roaring trade.

Parents of the kids should take special care to their spouse and take every possible measure to share the excitement of Basant without any loss of life and property. Motorcyclists and innocent people traveling along the road should be careful to avoid the unseen death in the shape of Doars.


Ms. Shazia Mehmood Khan is the co-author of this article.