Kites have their own place in History, Myth & Folklore of Bali. Especially during the Bali Kite Festival the people show their art of flying kites – the Layangan.

In this Article

One day it is still and the next the breezes suddenly spring up;

the trade winds have come!

With the wind the kite season in Bali begins. From now on they are omnipresent, you hear the humming sound of the kite strings vibrating in the wind. You see the huge, colorful masterpieces of aerodynamics from a long way away dancing in the infinite blue sky.

On the ground when two boys on a motorbike try to balance an enormous kite trough everyday traffic or  long lines of motorbikes and cars have to wait, when an entire caravan escorts the kite complete with flags, instruments, costumes, food and several items of village pride.

Trade Winds

In the mornings the breezes are gentle, but by mid- afternoon the wind speed is just right across the island to launch the kites that will fill the skies from July until the end of September. The term trade winds derives from the Middle English word ‘trade’ meaning path or track. Early 14th century Portuguese sailors first recognized the importance of these east/west winds to quickly get their sailing ships to the riches of the East.


July is the month when the kite fliers take advantage of the winds to show off their latest designs and flying techniques. Competitions are held to show their art, to earn respect, prestige and hopefully bring home prizes to their villages- it is Kites Festival time.

At the festival, held in Sanur – Mertasari Beach, there were some of the most incredible kites I had ever seen. All these giant flying sculptures and the team work needed to fly them show the intensity and degree to which the Balinese people have incorporated ritual, community, teamwork, and art into their kite craft.

It is a spectacle: Hundreds of kite troupes gather from all over the island to pilot their traditional and creative kites in various shapes and sizes. Traditional giant kites will be flown competitively by teams from especially the villages of greater Denpasar during windy season. The event is a seasonal religious festival intended to send a message to the Hindu Gods to thank for the harvests.

Once the festival begins, the village’s gamelan orchestra will accompany the team and will bash frenetically during competition driving the participants on to greater “heights.” The festival is an incredibly noisy and chaotic day with a cacophony of sound and hundreds of team members dashing here and there, heads up watching the sky. Competition is fierce, pitting Banjar against Banjar- Crowds will surround the ‘battlefield’ reveling in their Banjars’ success or another’s failure but all in the Balinese spirit of giving. I got invited to drink some tuagg- palm wine more then once.

History, Myth & Folklore of the kites in Bali

MYTH: Rare Angon

It is also said, that in kite season or after harvest, Rare Angon descends to Earth riding a buffalo while playing a bamboo flute. With the flute he calls the wind and brings prosperity to the people.

BALI- INDONESIA: History, Myth & Folklore of the kites in Bali
Rare Angon at Bali Kitefestival

Legend has is that the kite was firstly introduced by Rare Angon or Rare Anggon, a shepherd boy and god of the wind, who used to fly a kite while keeping his cattle.

He is also said to be an incarnation of god Shiva and a hero, falling in Love with Lubangkuri- goddes Uma.

Rare Angon is also the spiritual shepherd of all wild and domesticated animals. According to Balinese Hindu teachings, harmony between man, the animal kingdom and nature as a whole must always be maintained. Tumpek Uye is the day dedicated to the god in manifestation of Rare Angon, through a ceremony for animals.


The local people take flying kites- Layang-Layang or Layangan seriously. A kite in Bali is not just a plaything. In religious life and ceremonies a Layangan, is required.

  • One is in the form of a bird skin made with feathers and
  • the other is a feathered round-cut banana trunk.

Of course, these symbolic “kites” do not fly.
God Shiva, is supposed to like kite-flying, he is a child whose name may be translated simply as Shepherd Boy, but could also mean

The physiological state of childhood.

Adults who devote themselves to the art of kite flying can experience a return to the enchantments of childhood.”

Says Yoka Sara , who made a film about kite flying in Bali, titeled Janggan-[]:

“We believe that those who fly kites are possessed by the wind,

and in that blissful state anything they do will be forgiven,

in the way that children are forgiven.

It is a return to childhood.”

Building a kite

The real Balinese kites are huge, they need more than just a string to fly and the construction isn’t easy. A religious ceremony goes with the building of a Layangan. In the first place before anything is done toward the making of a kite, an advise is sought from the wise men or priest of the village. He will consult the traditional calendar to decide the right day to begin the work.

When the day is chosen, they will start to make the kite. It is made from a craft bamboo framework, and jointly built by the skillful members of the island’s community hall- Banjar.

Colorful lightweight fabrics will then be applied to the bamboo frames, and some are fitted with intricately carved heads. Around a couple of months of careful construction and testing go into each kite, based in a local temple. Offerings are also made when the kite is ready, the local priest is invited to bless it, often.

There are rituals involved in finding the proper kind of bamboo, cutting down the trees and imbuing the kite with a spirit that will give it life. A pengatepen ceremony is performed when the carved head of the Layangan is attached to its body. In the case of the Janggan kite, the head is in the form of a dragon “naga”or of a bird.

“The eyes of the dragon have to face forward, but not directly,”

says Yoka Sara, explaining how this placement differentiates the dragon eyes from those of a bull or a bird.

“It is the same eye position that is used in the agem stance of a dancer to show pride and strength.”

Although the mask of the dragon on Jaggan kites is designed to project pride, the art of the kite requires humility as well.

Because they fly over temples, kites in Bali must undergo a purification ceremony before they are sent aloft, in deference to the sacred objects beneath them.

“The team of 50 people who fly the kite also have to be purified,” notes Yoka Sara. ”People should be as polite as the kites.”

The kites and the people flying it shall be “selamat”, pure- a feast is held to complete the procedure. Offerings are also made during auspicious days for the kites.


Guwangan is a piece of rattan band stretched on a piece of somewhat like a bow made of bamboo or wood. When airborne the band will make a humming sound and a number of guwangans create a harmonious music.

A special feature of traditional kites is that each of them carry two “guwangan”, hummers. Guwangan is a piece of rattan band stretched on a piece of somewhat like a bow made of bamboo or wood. When airborne the band will make a humming sound and a number of guwangans create a harmonious music. The sound of those guwangans is also one of the criteria of evaluation in a competition. For me the sound of the guwangan is not a pleasure.


Generally, there are two types of kites at the competition, traditional kites and creative (modern) kites.

The colors of the traditional Kites

Red, white and black are traditional colors used in kite designs, they symbolize the Tri Murthi, the trinity concept of Balinese Hindu Religion:

  • Red for Brahma as the Creator of life,
  • Black for Vishnu the Preserver and
  • White for Shiva as the destroyer.

The combination of the three colors is called ‘Tri Datu’, is also used in every religious ceremony, on buildings, used in talismans and on kites.

Traditional kites

  • Bebean fish-shaped
  • Janggan bird-shaped and has a bird or dragon head
  • Pecukan leaf-shaped

The traditional Balinese kites are of enormous sizes – they can reach up to more than 4 meters in width and 10 meters in length. Each type of traditional kite has its own competition, with heats of 10 teams flying for the best launch and longest flight. There are some keen kite fighters who insist on using the traditional technique of covering their lines with finely ground glass. The Layangan are flown during the kite festival, by teams of 10 to 70 people, with their own Gamelan band, flag bearers and fliers.

Bebean kite.

The Bebean

The Bebean is the largest kite, and looks like a broad-mouthed, split-tailed fish. When it flies it can move like a fish in the water.

The Janggan

The Janggan has a broad flowing cloth tail that can reach more than 100 metres in length, taking his form from a mythological dragon. Balis rich mythology has also an explanation for the sacred Janggan kites, they are build and flown to appreciate “Naga Basuki”.


The Janggan dragon king kite.

The king of kites, is ‘Nagaraja’- the dragon king, it is a giant Janggan kite, stretching 249.75 meters down the beach in Sanur. The 707 kilogram kite requires some 200 people to help in order to fly it. The width of the kite measures 11.25 meters and has to be flown with a 300-meter long rope. Four trucks are needed to bring it to the beach. The Banjar Dangin Peken build it 2016 and they broke the record logged by the Indonesian World Records Museum (MURI), as the largest and longest kite in Indonesia. Sadly after a few meters the kite fell to the ground, but the next day it flew. These kite is sacred and will be blessed by a Balinese priest before and after flying.

MYTH: The creation of Bali

Bedawang padmasana

According to the Balinese creation myth, in the beginning of time, only the world snake Antaboga existed. During a meditation, Antaboga created Bedawang or Bedawang Nala, a giant turtle who carries the world on her back. Two snakes or dragons- naga, lie on Bedawang’s shell, as well as the Black Stone, which is the lid of the underworld. All other creations sprang from Bedawang. When Bedawang moves, there are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on earth. [Bedawang = boiling water Nala = fuel]

The turtle is a sacred animal in Balinese mythology and symbolizes the foundation supporting the earth and all its life. Naga Basuki and Benawang Nala, the dragon guards the stability of Earth in Hindu mythology.

MYTH: The Serpent and The Turtle – Variant

The Balinese, in their creation myth relate that in the beginning there was neither heaven nor earth. Then, through meditation, the World Serpent Antaboga created the World Turtle, Bedawang.

On the World Turtle lay two coiled snakes and the Black Stone, the lid of a cave which is the underworld, where there is neither sun nor moon. The underworld cave is ruled by the God Batara Kala and the goddess Setesuyara, and is the home of the great serpent Basuki.

Kala created the light and Mother Earth, over which extends a layer of water, and over the water a series of domes or skies. There is the middle sky, and above it the floating sky, where Semara, the god of love, sits. Above that is the dark blue sky with the sun and moon, and above that the perfumed sky, beautiful and full of rare flowers, the home of Tjak, the bird with a human face, the serpent Taksaka, who has legs and wings, and the awan snakes, which are the falling stars. Higher still is the flame filled heaven of the ancestors, and above that lies the highest layer of all, the abode of the gods, watched over by Tintiya, the male supreme being.

The gods created Bali as a flat, barren place. But when neighboring Java fell to the Muslims (in fact a long process lasting from c.1250 to c.1600), the disgusted Hindu gods moved to Bali and, at each of the four cardinal points, built mountains high enough for their exalted rank. In the middle they created the volcano Gunung Agung (Great Mountain), also called the Cosmic Mountain and Navel of the World.

Batur UNESCO Global Geopark includes two volcanic calderas and presents a complete volcanic landscape with caldera walls, cones and craters, geothermal phenomena (fumaroles, hot springs), a lake, lava flows, pyroclastic flows and tephra. Two cataclysmic eruptions that occurred 29,000 years and 20,000 years ago produced an outer-caldera (old) and inner-caldera (young), respectively, from which the grand landscape scenery originate. Between the years 1804 and 2000, Mt. Batur erupted at least 22 times forming a strato-volcano which is one of 127 active volcanoes in Indonesia, and an important component of the Pacific “ring of fire”.

Index map of the Batur Caldera in Bali Island with neighboring Volcanoes. 

The Pecukan

The Pecukan is the most difficult to fly, as its unstable form often tumbles towards the ground.

The name comes from the form, because the kite has 4 corners in a band shape, in Balinese language it is called Pecuk.

The form can be compared with the Chandra Ulu Windu, a symbol for Wijaksana Hyang Widhi Wasa.
The form of the Pecukan can also be compared with the Chandra Ulu Windu, a symbol for Wijaksana Hyang Widhi Wasa.

Wijaksana Hyang Widhi Wasa is the all in one God, also called Acintya, he corresponds to a rather recent trend towards monism in Bali, according to which there is one supreme deity, and that all other gods are only manifestations of him.

He is associated with the concept of Brahman and the Tri Murti (Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) also Dewi Sri, is part of Wijaksana Hyang Widhi Wasa.

The Pecukan  is fashioned from a leaf that is blown by the wind.

Creative Kites

A competition is also held for New Creations- kreasi baru kites which may include detailed three-dimensional figures representing the Hindu Gods, dragons, motorbikes, turtles and many more.

The development of kites in Bali produces various kinds of creative kites, the kite maker- undagi has freedom of forms- anything goes as long as it gets up to the required height.


The history of kite flying is a long tale stretching back over 3000 years before the written word, many theories have been suggested as to how the kite was invented.

It is difficult to say which of the early stories of kites are legends and which are historical. But folklorists and anthropologists see value in legends and myths even if they do not provide precise historical facts, as they often tell us how people thought and felt about things in the past.

Historians and Anthropologists think that China was the most likely home of the kite as the they did already knew how to weave the thread of the silkworm into material and bamboo was readily available.

Mythological roots of kites in China

Legend has it that the kite was born when a Chinese farmer tied a string to his hat to keep it from flying away—nearly 2,500 years ago.

The first written account referencing kites is from 200 BC The Chinese General Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty flew a kite over the walls of a besieged city that he planned to liberate. Using a kite to measure the distance to the Emperor’s palace, General Hsin and his army were able to tunnel into the city and overthrow the tyrannical dictator. This coup-by-kite marked the beginning of the Western Han Dynasty that would rule the Chinese empire for the next 200 years.

An ancient painting depicting kite flying in China

Legend tells, also of the Chinese philosopher Mo-tse (Mo Ti in some texts) (approx. 468-376 BC) is thought as the first to build a kite. Living near Mt. Lu, in the area of Qingzhou, Shandong province (near present day Weifang China), Mo-tse carefully carved a bird (a ‘sparrow hawk’ or eagle) over a period of three years.

Once satisfied that it was as much like a bird as he could make it, he flew it for only a single day. The exact details of its flight are not recorded, but there is conclusive, written reference to this event in Chinese history. The story of Mo-tse’s flight in the Weifang area is frequently cited as proof for the fact that the kite originated in China.

Asian kite mythology

Oral histories, human migration in prehistory, and archaeology also have a part to play. But to begin close to the beginning I think we should start with a story that is very old. It appears in myths and legends in Asia and Polynesia. One way folklorists trace old tales, – the kite tale motif goes something like this:

A long time ago a man wanted to fly up to the sky and the stars. He was so determined that he built himself a kite big enough to carry him into the sky.  He flew so high that he became an immortal deity.

There is a kite god among the native peoples of New Zealand, Hawai’i and other islands in Polynesia. In the Maori version of the story the man-deity becomes a kite.

In Hawaiian mythology the god Maui flies a kite.

There are many stories about how the people of Micronesia used leaf kites to carry bait far out over the water where the gar-fish fed.

The Polynesians have myths about two brother gods introducing kites to man when they had a kite duel. The winning brother flew his kite the highest. There are still contests in the islands where the highest flying kite is dedicated to the gods.

In addition to these myths, kite-flying carries with it aspects of sacredness in Asian and Polynesian cultures. They provide a link between deities and humans. They are flown to honor the gods. They were used in divination in New Zealand. In China and Japan they may scare off bad spirits and attract good ones. Some Chinese kites have whistles and spinning discs attached to them that help scare away bad chi (a wonderful online exhibit from the University of Maine, 99 Chinese Kites, includes images of some with spinners and whistles). 

There are auspicious and inauspicious days to fly kites in Asia. Kites that get loose and fly away must not be touched when they land on the ground, as this may be bad luck. This aspect of sacredness did not travel with Chinese kites to Europe.

Kites fly from Asia to the world

Scholars think kites could have been independently invented by the Malaysians or/and Indonesians who first made kites from leaves and also have a long history of kite flying.

It is thought that Buddhist missionaries from China started the spread of kites throughout Korea and Japan where both peoples developed their own particular style of kite.

Around the same time it spread to the Polynesian and Pacific Islands and there is evidence of kite making in Burma and India.

Other Scholars suggests that Genghis Khan and his Mongolian warriors brought kites with them when they invaded and ruled most of central Europe and Asia.

Marco Polo carried stories of kites to Europe around the end of the 13th century. It was said that he saw that merchants who were planning on crossing the sea would first secure someone on a massive kite and if the kite flies, then the trip would be safe but if it falls down, the voyage would be perilous.

The earliest evidence of Indian kite flying comes from miniature paintings from the Mogul Period around 1500. A favorite theme was of a young man skillfully using his kite to drop messages to a lover who was being held in strict seclusion from him and the rest of the world.

Sailors also brought kites back from Japan and Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Kites were regarded as curiosities.

Portuguese traders and the Dutch East India Company are also thought to be responsible for introducing kites into Europe.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, kites were used as vehicles and tools for scientific research in Europe and USA.

The silk route is also thought to be responsible for spreading kites into Arabia and North Africa.

Indonesia has a rich kite heritage:

  • it boasts the leaf kites of Sulawesi,
  • the Pechukan, Janggan, and Bebean of Bali,
  • the Sumbulan of central Java, among many others.

Early kites in China, Indonesia, and the south sea islands relied on the use of natural materials:

  • Bamboo or similarly strong reed like branches for framing structure;
  • Thin strands of vine or braided fibers for flying/tethering line;
  • woven cloth and later paper, were commonly used for sailing in China
  • Leaves, braided reeds and similar fibrous sheets. It is thought that leaf kites were the first ever to be flown.
Kite fishing in Indonesia

This type of kite was used and still is for fishing in Indonesia. At the bottom of the kite a line and hook is attached instead of a tail which enables the fisherman to catch the larger fish which swim further away from the shadow of the boat. This method has been used the for over 2000 years.

Illustration: Panorama of Ternate, published in the account of the ‘Second Voyage’ under J. van Neck and W. Warwijck 1598-1600.

Among the boats is one illustrating a fishing technique which has been specific to Indonesian waters (and to the Moluccas in particular), to the Caroline Islands and parts of the Southwest Pacific, namely kite-fishing. The panorama of Ternate is the earliest record of kite-fishing in European literature. (In addition to kite-fishing the Ternate panorama also offers the earliest depiction in European sources of flying a plane kite).

Historical use of kites

Kites are often thought of as ‘toys’. However, the earliest uses were:

  • Military: to visually signal, scatter messages, measure distances, and as kite technology improved, to lift observers over military areas;
  • Scientific: to emulate the flight of birds;
  • Utilitarian: to carry fishing line and hook out over the water in atolls, thus providing a means of catching fish in somewhat remote water from where the fisherman stood;
  • Religious: to offer up wishes to the gods of weather and crop fertility at the time of spring planting or fall harvest; to appease the spirit world;
  • Cultural: to demonstrate artistically the symbols of a region or nation in the sky.

The use of kites as toys actually came later.

NOTE: The ancient art of flying kites continues to be an important cultural activity in many parts of the world, a tradition which changes and grows. We have only been able to describe a few briefly here, and there is much more to say about history, myth & folklore of the kites in Bali.

~ ○ ~

Keep exploring:

Works Cited & Multimedia Sources