In late 2012, James Bond’s Skyfall hit the theatres, making people gasp for breath at the pace of the action.
In 2013, Usha Uthup sang the title song of the same movie movie at the Ink function on stage and it was titled ‘Skyfall in a saree’. Beautifully sung and flawlessly, the queen of our hearts made us gasp with her fantastic rendition that could have possibly made Adele wonder in amazement.
Now Shital Mahajan, the well-known Indian skydiver has again made us gasp with her ‘skydiving in a saree’, making it her close to 700th jump, wearing a traditional Maharastrian Nauwari saree for this one. Wow!
This lady is fearless
Sunday, 11.2.2018, saw Sunita diving after taking off from Thai Skydiving Centre, from a height of 13000 ft. above ground level. Wearing the 8 to 9 metres Maharashtrian traditional saree known as Nauvari (9 yard) because of its length and in its special draping style, Mahajan said "I wanted to to do something different and I tried doing it wearing a nauvari saree. Its a tribute to women ahead of the International Women's Day. Wearing a Nauwari saree itself was a challenge," said Shital. The conventional saree length worn by most ladies is five and a half metres. She had to manage looking good in the saree, appeal in its wearing style and yet see that it did not open up when she jumped. Naturally the Nauwari seemed the one style that closely matched all her requirements.
But is this new to her? Well yes and no. Yes, this is her first time in the conventional saree. No, she has skydived nearly 700 times since her first jump in 2004.
One of her quotes on her sport? “I wanted to do something different. Many women players have performed well in other sports, but none in para jumping. I was inspired by Rachal Thomas, India’s first woman skydiver’s (Retired) achievements. I hope so my achievement will inspire other girls to take up the sport”.
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Who is Sunita Mahajan Rane?
She is the founder of Phoenix Skydiving Academy, Pune that wants to create interest and love for skydiving in the youth. Why? She found that there were many who did not pursue the sport for two reasons. They had no knowledge of what was involved and feared the adventure. But more importantly, she had been trained on foreign shores because though enthusiastic about the sport despite the objections from her parents, there were no training places in India for women in 2002.
Her achievements are many; having undertaken such jumps in very many locations across the world. She has hardly jumped from below 13000 ft. above ground and there have been a few jumps from 18000 ft. with oxygen, from various types of aircraft. She has been to both the North Pole and the South Pole for jumps that she successfully accomplished in her first attempts. In fact the jumps at the Poles were in freezing temperatures of minus 37 degrees and became the first woman to have ever done such jumps without trials.
Born in September, 1982 at Pune, Maharashtra , her mother Mamata Mahajan is a housewife, and father Kamalakar Mahajan, a machine worker at Tata Motors. A BSc in Zoology from Fergusson College, Pune, a friend’s brother Wing Cdr Kamal Singh Oberh, who had performed many feats in the sport para jumping, inspired her to take interest and attempt it herself. The rest is history. Her first jump was on 18 April 2004. She has more or less completed 700 jumps since then.
Recipient of the Padma Shri, Sunita (37) in 2011, she has a husband Vaibhav Rane who is a software professional and sky diver himself, and the couple got married near Pune, 600 ft. above ground in a hot air balloon, that has been recorded in the Limca Book of World Records. They are blessed with twin sons.
Her skydiving trail
Starting 2004 she has achieved aplenty. But let us see her more noteworthy ones.
- On 18th April 2004, Shital Mahajan performed the First Parachute jump of her life without any practice over Geographic North Pole Arctic Circle in a freezing temperature of minus 37 Degree Celsius from a height of 2400 feet from a Russian MI - 8 Helicopter. Of the others with her, two were professional instructors, one was Padma Shri Award winner Mrs. Rachel Thomas and two others had hundred jumps to their credit. The amazing thing was that before this Shital had never ever set foot on an aircraft.
- On 19 February 2006, Ms. Shital Mahajan received the " Shiv Chatrapati Maharashtra State Sports Special Award 2004 - 2005" at the hands of Chief Minister of Maharashtra Shri. Vilasrao Deshmukh.
- On 29 August 2006, Ms. Shital Mahajan received the "Tensing Norgay National Adventure Award"from Honorable President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
- 15th December 2006, saw Shital Mahajan perform her First Accelerated Free Fall Parachute Jump of life over Antarctica or South Pole in a freezing temperature of minus 38 Degree Celsius from a height of 11600 feet from a Twin Otter aircraft.
- Skydiving over the poles at 23, made her the youngest woman to achieve this feat.
- This was the year that Finland-based NRI Software engineer Mr. Vaibhav Rane and she got engaged.
- Looking to her achievements till then, the Maharashtra govt. wanted her to perform as a skydiver at the opening ceremony of Youth Common Wealth games, planned in October 2008 in Pune at Balewadi stadium.
- In February 2008 Government of Maharashtra sanctioned Basic and Intermediate rigorous skydiving training, to Ms. Mahajan in the USA at Skydive Arizona.
- Her happiness increased with her marriage to Vaibhav Rane in a hot air balloon on 19th April 2008 at the Oxford Golf Course, Pune.
- During the year, Shital went to the USA at Skydive Arizona for 4 months for Basic and Intermediate rigorous skydiving training, where she was able to complete her 250 jumps plus wind tunnel training and received A,B,C licenses from the United States Parachute Diving Association. She had got very good training from her American instructors. The Maharashtra Govt. had sponsored her for this programme with the view of her performing at the Youth Commonwealth games that year at Pune. Unforseen events saw her permissions as a civilian to jump along with others from the Indian Air Force denied at the last minute.
- Another joy in her life with the birth of her twin boys. This was about the only time in her life since she started that she had to forgo her para jumping.
- On 19 September 2010, Shital did her comeback by performing her record attempting feat of Wing Suit jump at Skydiver Empuriabrava in Spain. She completed 20-wingsuit jumps in her basic Training, with Finland based World Famous Wing Suit Inventor and Instructor Jari Kuosma. Performing her Jump with Wingsuit, Shital became First Indian Civilian woman to fly with a Wing Suit.
- On 24 March 2011, Shital Mahajan received India’s Fourth Highest Civilian Award "PADMA SHRI" by Honorable President of India Pratibha Patil for her achievements in the sport of skydiving.
- Receiving the Padma Shri award, spurred Shital to dedicate her work to encouraging the younger generation. To promote the sport in India she planned to open a skydiving academy with support from the Centre and her State Govt. However there being no laws or rules & regulations established for this sport, Shital decided to go for further advance training of skydiving in the USA so that after gaining more knowledge she could use it to develop the sport in India.
- Backed by her husband, she went with him for a 3 months advance skydiving training to Skydive Arizona, USA. But this time round, her husband and some private investors sponsored her training. Completing her 500th jump during the course of the training she received her USPA D license too from them.
- 23rd October, 2011, Shital Mahajan skydived from a Hot Air Balloon at an altitude of 5800 ft at Skydive Arizona and broke the existing record of parachute jump from a hot air balloon for any Indian woman, that till then stood at close to 5500 ft.
- When Vaibhav Rane also completed 57 sky dives and achieved his United States Parachute Association’s A and B licenses. They then became India’s first civilian skydiving couple.
- In December 2011, Ms. Mahajan achieved another landmark in her life. Completing her Coach rating in skydiving in Spain at Skydive Sevilla with Instructors academy under the famous Marcus Laser, she became India’s first Civilian Woman Skydiving Coach.
- In 2012, Shital Mahajan started the first of its kind for skydiving in India at Pune, the Phoenix Skydiving Academy, so that this unknown sport gets recognition in our country and to further promote the sport of Parachuting.
- Skydiving as a sport is under-acknowledged in India, she feels. Ms. Mahajan’s aim from the start was to create awareness in people about the sport. She guides young aspiring students to pursue this sport and encourages them by offering them Skydiving Guidance and Ground coaching free of costs.
- In September 2012, Shital Mahajan participated in P3 skydiving formation camp in California, USA, and became the First Indian civilian woman to represent India in 79-way skydiving formation in the air at 18000 ft.
- After achieving her recognition as a coach herself, in 2013, Shital Mahajan organized the first skydiving camp in Maharashtra at Baramati Airport. The sport had already got attention due to her personal achievements and people as civilians began to try out their hand since 2007, in small numbers in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
- As a novelty, on December 12th, 2013, on the occasion of Baramati MP Shri Sharad Pawar’s birthday, she dived from 11000 ft. to deliver the birthday greeting card at Baramati Airport. At that time the Baramati skydiving Festival from 11th to 15th December was already in progress and 52 persons from the state were afforded the opportunity to do skydiving.
- Laurels rested lightly on Ms.Mahajan’s shoulders. She put in all her efforts to enthuse the youth to take an active interest in the sport. Her dream was to create many more like her so that India could be done proud through participation in the World Championships in the sport. Her achievements have generally been a motivator for the youngsters and many a senior citizen too to attempt to do what they felt they could not.
- She became instrumental in creating two world records. Largest group doing skydiving – 89 Indian civilians performed Tandem skydiving in a single day over in a foreign land – at Empuriabrava - Spain on 25 August 2014. This also became a National Record as Highest number of simultaneous Tandem skydiving -35 done in one hour by largest group of Indians on foreign land.
- In 2015, Shital Mahajan was approached by Pepsico Brand for being part of Mountain Dew's 'Naam Bantey Hain Risk Se' "Real Hero Of India" campaign as a brand ambassador.
- In January Ms. Mahajan was invited by Prime Minister of India for Republic Day Parade at Rajpath in Delhi, as a part of 100 woman achievers of India group. The initiative was taken by “Abke Baras Mohe Bitiya Dijo” campaign
- In March Ms. Mahajan got the invitation from ‘“ India’s Got Talent”'Show to be a part of the show for one episode. Ms. Mahajan performed 6 skydiving demo jumps. The Show was telecast on 4th June 2016.
- In 2017 February Ms. Mahajan planned completion of skydiving over 7 continents. She performed her jump on 19th February 2017 in Johannesburg at Skydive Pretoria. This was her first jump over her 6th continent – Africa.
- On 22 February 2017, Ms. Mahajan performed her first jump in Brazil, South America.
- This completed her dream of an Indian woman doing jumps over 7 continents a reality.
- She had already completed Antartica, Australia, Asia, Europe, North America earlier. On completing this she was nominated for The Sabiha Gökcen Medal that was created in 2002, by the Turkish NAC. .
- Sabiha Gökcen, the winner of the FAI Gold Air Medal, was Turkey's first woman pilot and in 1937 became the world's first female military pilot. She was an inspiration to women pilots. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, FAI - The World Air Sports Federation, was founded in 1905. It is a non-governmental and non-profit making international organization with the basic aim of furthering aeronautical and astronautical activities worldwide, ratifying world and continental records and coordinating the organization of international competitions. It is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
- On 20 May 2017, with help of oxygen mask and cylinder, Shital Mahajan performed High Altitude Low Opening skydiving (HALO) jump in San Francisco at Sky Dance Skydiving Center from 30,500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). The free fall speed was around 230 km per hour. Shital did open the parachute at 5000ft then speed was 90 km per hour. Till now no Indian woman has done skydiving from this altitude.
- Shital Mahajan became the First Indian Woman to perform HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) skydiving jump from 30,500ft. For heights of 30,000ft and above HALO jumps require a careful planning. The extreme altitude and reduced air pressure require skydivers to start pre-breathing with the oxygen mask on the ground for an hour prior to takeoff. Due to the special oxygen equipment, the jump becomes a little more challenging.
In a fast progressing yet still conservative country in many ways, especially in how girls should conduct themselves in society at large, the idea of para-jumping, seemed too radical for comfort and naturally, Shital Mahajan’s parents like so many others forbade her initially. Yet for one who is determined to carry out one’s plans, convincing them even though did take some time, once they agreed, she showed them what she could achieve. She may have received help from the quarters that aided her journey so far, but one should see it as “those who helped her saw her immense grit and courage to achieve her goals and that is why they helped her like they did on her way”.
In 2007, when he happened to note that a girl named Shital Mahajan was writing her name in golden letters in the pages of Indian History, Mr.Devender Ladha of Unnati Silks had remarked, “This girl will achieve many a thing that others have not and she will prove like others before her, that Indian women are second to none when it comes to realising their dreams”.
“For we at Unnati Silks, anything about sarees is news to be watched out for. When recently Shital Mahajan performed her feat wearing the Maharashtrian Nauwari saree, of jumping of a plane for skydiving wearing the Indian garment, she did three things simultaneously”.
She proved that the Indian woman also ‘dares to dream and dreams to dare’ like any of her counterparts on foreign shores. She became one of the few elite women of the world in her sport to create a record of sorts and also attempting the untried.
She proved to the world that there is nothing like the Indian saree, which has so many varieties, can be draped in so many styles, and which garment offers the creativity, class, convenience and comfort like no other fabric, more so when it comes down to ‘wearing suitably to do unusual or rare feats’.
That is why, like so many others, we at Unnati Silks feel she is different!