A kite is a secured heavier-than-air craft or even fastened lighter-than air craft with wing surfaces that fly against the air to generate lift and drag. A kite consists of wings, ropes, and anchors. Kites often have a harness and tail to control the kite’s face so the wind can elevate it.
It glides in shades, tones, and hues of rainbow colors in the clouds’ immediate vicinity. It is a systematic and sporting activity, entertainment and canvas for creative expression. For thousands of years, it has graced the skies of many countries of the world.
Let’s look at the fascinating history of kites.
Kites were born in Asia, though their precise origin can only be speculated. The oldest depiction of a kite is from a mesolithic period cave mural in Muna Island, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, which has been recorded from 9500–9000 years B.C.E.
It has a rich history but nothing is sure about the designer. People believe that kites spread into India by Huin and FHien, the two Chinese travelers about 3,000 years ago. The kite did have its roots in China, where the building supplies were readily available, but it is not easy to find its date of birth as to classify its history and legend.
Tales of kites landed in Europe through Marco Polo towards the start of the 13th century. Kites were brought back by marines from Japan and Malaysia in the medieval era. However, the years from 1860 to about 1910 was the “golden age of kiting” when these were used as channels for scientific experiments.
Around 190 BC, some kites assisted the military action. These had wind-harp, which echoed the wind and created a sound that frightened the enemy.
Another account discusses the famous Chinese General Han Hsin, who attacked the palace in 196 B.C. He used a kite to estimate the distance between his troops and the palace walls, post which he developed a tunnel and penetrate the palace.
According to the historical inscription, in 200 BCE, Huin flew a kite at night to threaten the Han dynasty’s army. From 100 BCE to 500 CE, kites were used to transmit signals and mark the situation of enemy camps. In 1939 the U.S. Air Force and Navy equipped pilots with ‘Gibson Girl’ that contained feminine ideal to protect signal kite kits. These methods were also used by the Australian and British Air Forces later in World War 2. The Russian Air Force produced a very similar rescue kit. The kite rescue kits were used through the Korean War in the 1950′s.
It was between AD 960 and 1126 that kite flying became a famous sport in China. The Chinese used kites for psychological warfare too. In this procedure, the kites were used to lower leaflets into a jail that held prisoners. It prompted riots that led to their escape.
Regarding Indian history, kites were mentioned in Madhumalti by Manjhan. They were called Patang. Here, the flight of a kite is compared with the loved one by a poet. Marathi writers Tukaram and Eknath also illuminated kites in their verses where the word ‘Vavdi‘ has been used. In the book, Bill Thomas writes that the kite played a vital role in an early territory battle between Hindus and Muslims. The Scottish meteorologist Dr. Alexander Wilson and Thomas Melville used kites to elevate thermometers to a height of 3000 feet to estimate temperature fluctuation at altitude.
Kites in different Cultures
Kite festivals are a traditional form of entertainment throughout the world. They include significant local events, traditional festivals held for hundreds of years, and major international festivals which bring in kite flyers from other countries under one roof…or sky.
In Indonesia, kites are flown as both sport and recreation. One of the most popular kite variants is from Bali. Balinese kites are different, and they have varying designs and forms; birds, butterflies, dragons, ships, etc. In Vietnam, kites are flown without tails. Instead, small flutes are added, allowing the wind to “hum” a musical tune.
Kites are very common in India, with Gujarat, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Punjab notable for their kite fighting festivals. Highly maneuverable single-string paper and bamboo kites are flown from the rooftops while using line friction to cut each other’s kite lines, either by letting the cutting line loose at high speed or by pulling the line in a fast and repeated manner. During the Indian spring festival of Makar Sankranti, millions of people fly kites all over India around mid January.
In Japan, kite flying is traditionally a child’s play in the New Year holidays and in the Boys’ Festival in May. In some areas, there is a custom to celebrate a new born baby boy with a new kit. There are several kite festivals throughout Japan. The most famous one is the “Yōkaichi Giant Kite Festival” in Higashiōmi, Shiga, which started in 1841.
In Greece and Cyprus, flying kites is a custom for Clean Monday, the first day of Lent. In the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, traditional Bermuda kites are made and flown at Easter, to symbolize Christ’s ascent.
Polynesian traditional kites are sometimes used for celebrations and variants of traditional kites for amusement. Older pieces are kept in museums. The people of Polynesia treasure these.
In Brazil, flying a kite is an everyday leisure activity for children, teenagers, and even young adults. Like the Indian version, the goal is to manoeuvre their kites to cut the other persons’ kites’ strings during flight, followed by kite running where participants race through the streets to take the free-drifting kites.
Whatever the history is, and the theories of its origin, it is the wind that earns the credit for this discovery. The legend has it that the hat of a Chinese farmer blown by the wind helped create the first kite. The fact and the shock are how a simple kite could have been used in ways that we can hardly ever imagine!