The Art of Gudiparan bazi

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Afghan Kite Discussion Forum

1/15/2001
David Sahar, MD
dave@sahar.net
San Francisco, California

Before the war began, Gudiparan bazi (kite flying) was a common hobby of many Afghans throughout Afghanistan. It was a form of sport that many took to the status of art. From the designs and sizes of kites to the making of unbreakable tar (wire), for many this became a matter of honor to compete in who's who among the best kite fighters in their neigborhood.  This addicting sport absorbed many young Afghans, even during the war.

For those who missed out on this great Afghan pastime, here is the nuts and bolts of Afghan kite and kite fighting in a nut shell. I have compiled this article to preserve this aspect of the Afghan culture, as today this sport is banned by current authorities.

The Unit
To have an operational unit to fly a Kite "officially", it was accepted that it would take 2 persons. One to actually fly the kite (leader) and the other to keep the charkha (an intricately designed wooden drum penetrated longitudinally by a stick to keep the wire wound around it and for ease of recovering the wire back) Undeservedly many times the charkha gir would get the blame for not holding the wire correctly should the unit lose the kite fight. 

The Kite
The kites, or Gudiparan (literally meaning flying doll) as it's called in Afghanistan, came in different sizes - from smallest which was only about 10-12 inches in diameter to largest which was human size - Mahi gec, nim takhtai, se parcha, panj parcha, shesh parcha and the famous humongous haft parcha or simply "haft". The shape was mostly conserved throughout the family of Kites. They were all made of thin paper and the skeleton supported by bamboo wood, investing on its malleability and flexibility.

A Kite Flying Unit:

  • Kite flyer (leader)
  • Charkha gir - person holding the wire
  • Kite
  • Wire
  • Charkha

Accessories

  • Finger protector - A tubular leather, usually worn around the right index finger to prevent trauma to the index finger from the sharp wire

The Wire (Tar)
The wire that connected the Kite to the leader was of great importance.  Much attention was paid to this aspect of Kite flying, as it determined the success of Kite fighting. A variety of wires were used including (from highest to lowest quality) hasht l
umber, panjsad war and da lumber, chel lumbar, among others. Chel lumbar was the thinnest of all, but worked well in a fight when flying small kites. Many advocated this due to it's fine ability to get into the opponents wire easily and cut it during a kite fight. The way the wire was prepared took hours to make. First shisha (a mold to coat the wire) had to be made. Basically glass was grounded(to make the wire sharp for cutting) and mixed with an adhesive material and mushed rice to make what was comparable to a paste in texture. The wire was coated with this mold and after it was dry, it is wound around the drum (charkha), where it is stored for use. The alternative coating method was called "dolai", where the wire was immersed into liquid "shisha" and coated. It was left to dry, then used.  Usually 2 trees were used to wound the wire around until it was dry, then wound on a drum (Charkha). The coated wire is sharp - it is designed for kite fighting. Many children would cut themselves with this sharp wire - often to the bone. To avoid this, many wrapped a piece of leather around their index finger (called kilkak) to protect them.

The Drum (Charkha) - Though charkha was mostly used for storage of wire, it proved crucial during kite fighting where rapid release of wire was critical. It was essential to have the drum light for ease of use, so wood was used to make this element of kite flying.

The Fight (Jang) - In order to have a kite fight, 2 kites had to be airborne simultaneously at a close proximity. As soon as the wire of these two kites contacted each other, the fight had began. The fight would last from a split second to up to 1/2 hour, depending on wind, the difference in quality of tar between the two parties and other undetermined factors. Generally the one with most experience and patience win the fight, given the same quality of the tar, kite and charkha gir. The general concept was to release wire, and avoid pulling when in a kite fight. The faster you release the more likely one would win the fight. This theory is based on a complex dynamic relationship of the wires while in the air, which held true for the most part. Since larger kites had greater pull, greater release of wire per second was anticipated and thus greater chance of winning with a larger kite. However this theory had it's limitations - larger kites have been known to lose to much smaller kites. The quality of tar was also an important factor in determining who was to go home with a kite. Some would preach that the smoother the wire, the better it would cut the opponent, as it would be more fluid during the fight. Further, the wire with more shisha (sharper) would get stuck easily and get cut. However, proponents would argue that sharper wire would serve better specially during "kashak" (a fight where one of the parties go on offense and pull very hard under the opponent - this fight would last no more than a second usually)  Though there are no randomized trial research to determine which method served best, somewhere in between  is probably where one wants to be.

Azadi Rawast
Once the loser of the kite fight would lose the kite, the kite would be released into the air without guidance and would follow the direction of wind. This was a great opportunity for some one else to catch and own it. 

The Sharti 
Most Kocha's (A block of street) had their own Sharti (Kite fight Champion). Sharti title was given to the one who had the impeccable record of not losing a kite fight. Shartis generally had a good grasp of what they should do in a particular kite fight to win, or at least not lose. They also had a style and elegance that would capture audience throughout the neighborhood.  However, even sharti's would occasionally lose, and this was generally a big deal to many kochagis (neigborhood). 

The Hazards
Unfortunately kite flying in Afghanistan was a dangerous business. For the most part this was the game of boys. Flying kites in neighborhoods meant one would climb the roof, where they had the best view and access to wind and skies. However, many unwary of their position and looking into the sky were victim of falls. Untold number of children would break bones or even lose their lives with this sport.

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