In the mazelike streets of Old Dhaka, the rooftops of high-rises display a show unlike any other. Starting with the iconic kite flying in the afternoon, the festival, marking the end of Bangla month Poush, keeps getting brighter as night descends.
Residents of this particular area of the capital celebrate the southward journey of the sun from the tropic of Capricorn to the tropic of Cancer. The festival, which usually takes place from January 14-15, is also known as Makar (Capricorn) Shankranti.
The afternoon sky, swarming with colourful kites of various sizes, offers an unforgettable sight.
As the sun bids farewell to the day, ‘fanoosh’ (colourful paper lanterns) dot the sky like small fireflies. The celebrations turn merrier when people are greeted with pithas and traditional cuisine.
In this age of social media, colourful images of the festival attract people from all over the capital to Old Dhaka.
Many people like Jagannath University student Ullash Chowdhury, work throughout the day to prepare kites. Ullash says he considers Shakrain as something closer to his roots.
“I was born in Old Dhaka and have grown up enjoying this annual festival. The kites, high pitched music and other features of this time is a break from our routine lives,” he says. “The festival also gives us a chance to strengthen our bonds with families and friends.”
For Wari resident Sheikh Humayra Kabir, Shakrain is a special occasion to meet and catch up with her cousins. She says it is something only enjoyed by ‘Puran Dhakaiyas’ (residents of Old Dhaka).
This century-old festival has been growing in popularity among people, mainly because of kite flying. Mohammadpur resident Ratul, a university student, speaks excitedly about the new experience. “I have never seen so many kites together in my life,” he says.
The hospitality and merry nature of the Old Dhaka locals left a lasting impression on him. “I will be back next year,” Ratul says, hoping to have a similar jubilant experience.
Scholars say Shakrain’s history can be traced back to almost 250 years. The festival of mainly kite flying took place in what is now Old Dhaka.
Kite flying competition remains a salient feature of the celebrations. Loud music and rooftop DJ parties add new colour to the old tradition.
The colours of Shakrain shines brighter across different parts of old Dhaka as the night sets in. The light shows, paper lanterns, and fireworks that illuminate sky as rooftops are abuzz with music and fire-breathing stunts – are all means to keep the heart of an Old Dhaka heritage beating.