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- Layangan.
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.
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.
THE BALI KITE FESTIVAL
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.
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.
MYTH & FOLKLORE OF LAYANGAN
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-[facebook.com/janggan.movie]:
“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.
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.
- 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 flyers.
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 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 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
A ccording 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
T he 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.
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.
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.
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.
HISTORY OF KITES
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.
T he first written account referencing kites is from 200 B.C. 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.
L egend tells, also of the Chinese philosopher Mo-tse (Mo Ti in some texts) (approx. 468-376 B.C.) 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.
Others believe kites could have been independently invented by the Malaysians or Indonesians who first made kites from leaves and also have a long history of kite flying.
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.
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 a lot of evidence of kite making in Burma and India. The silk route is also thought to be responsible for spreading kites into Arabia and North Africa. Portuguese traders and the Dutch East India Company are thought to be responsible for introducing kites into Europe, other theories suggests that Kengis Khan and his Mongolian warriors brought kites with them when they invaded and ruled most of central Europe and Asia.
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. 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.
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:
- 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;
- Military: to visually signal, scatter messages, measure distances, and as kite technology improved, to lift observers over military areas;
- 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 in almost all cultures.
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. I 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.
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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources
- Acintya, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acintya
- Bali International Kite Festival. 1996.http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~et3m-tkkw/bali.html
- Balinese Ceremonies. http://www.murnis.com/culture/balinese-ceremonies/
- Balinese Symbolism. http://www.murnis.com/culture/balinese-symbolism/
- Bali Kite Festival From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bali_Kite_Festival
- Bali’s Giant Dragon king Kite Finally Takes Flight baliupdate.com
- Brief history of the kite http://www.kiteman.co.uk/KiteHistoryBothPages.html
- Hall Stephanie Kites Rise on the Wind: The Origin of Kites. Folklife Today. https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2017/03/kites-rise-on-the-wind/
- I Gede Martana (ceblonk) a unique tradition of kite bali. https://cwocwekece.blogspot.co.id/2016/09/a-unique-tradition-of-kite-bali-talking.html
- July – Kite Flying Season in Bali! http://www.brucebriscoe.com/kites/index.htm
- Low-Tech Kite-Fishing in the Indo-Pacific. Illustration kite fishing. https://www.notechmagazine.com/2014/02/kite-fishing.html
- Luhtu Tyang .W. https://tyangluhtu.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/what-kites-are-for-us/
- Maui’s kite flying. http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/maui/maui12.htm
- Pic: Bedawang or Bedawang Nala on Padmasana – Balinese Shrine on Bali Indonesia holiday travels. http://balistarisland-indonesia.blogspot.com/2014/05/padmasana-balinese-shrine.html
- Putu Bagus Anggaraditya. A history of the King in the sky: Balinese Kite Festival, in: Bali Tourism Journal (BTJ) 2017.
- The Origin of Kites – thank you http://best-breezes.squarespace.com/origin-of-kites/
- Ule Chandra: M. Adiputra https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Modre_symbol_Ang.png.
- Wijaya Sidarta. Rare Angon, A Well-Known Balinese Folktale.