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Quirky kites and rebellious roosters battle it out

- Makar Sankranti lends festive colours to state as cock fights and encounters in skies rent the air

Bhubaneswar/Cuttack, Jan. 14: Revelry and camaraderie filled the air as the state observed Makar Sankranti with various traditional rituals.

Playful kite flying contests were held in several regions and feral cock fighting at others to mark the festivities.

Hira, the cock, won three medals for its master, Sudam Marandi, 37, before succumbing to injuries. He fought a valiant battle for his master amidst applause of thousands of tribals who may have been far away from their ancestral homes but congregated for the cockfight organised to celebrate Makar Sankranti at a field near Jayadev Vihar in the state capital.

Sudam, who ekes out his livelihood as a daily labourer, said: “I have been living in the city for the past 20 years. Every year, I go to my village in Mayurbhanj district for Makar Sankranti. However, for the past three years, I was not able to visit my village. Instead, I celebrate the Makar Parba here.”

He was dejected when Hira died in one of the cockfights, but proud to have won three rounds. “Before dying, Hira gave me three cocks. I will take them and celebrate Makar Parba with my family,” said Sudam.

Nearly 4,000 people came with their cocks to participate in the fight. The atmosphere in the area was electrifying as the masters downed a glass of country liquor before entering the arena with their heroes. The liquor was sold at Rs 10 each glass.

People were indulging in betting for their favourite fighters. “People will bet up to Rs 500 against a fighter cock.”

The masters tied a small knife to the feet of their cocks. Mohan Hansda, another labourer from Keonjhar district, said: “Once a cock wins the fight, he pays Rs 20 to the organiser and takes the loser cock with him.”

The organisers feared a police raid because of the betting.

In Berhampur and Cuttack, kite-flying contests were on in full fervour to celebrate the festival. The skyline of the two cities was full of colourful kites.

In Cuttack, the Makar Sankranti celebrations started early in the morning with enthusiasts flocking to terraces to indulge in some spirited kite-flying competitions. The intense tussle of kites went on from dawn till dusk. A private FM channel in collaboration with a telecom company organised a kite flying competition titled Udi Udi Ja Re Gudi on the banks of the Kathjodi river in Chandni Chowk. A steady breeze helped the competitions go down to the wire.

An organiser said: “Cuttack had a vibrant culture of kite-flying, but over the past few years, the eagerness has declined. This is an initiative to resurrect that zeal.” They doled out cash awards of Rs 1,500, Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 for the winner and runners-ups, respectively. One of the lucky winners was Raghunath Behera, a businessman with an unflinching love for kite-flying.

He said: “The decline in kite-flying is because of the China-made plastic threads. The regular manja is no match to them. We love the good old thread that guaranteed an adrenaline rush while we tried our best to take down other kites.”