High in the sky

Published June 3, 2023

There was a time, when it was not unusual to see colourful kites dotting the city skyline, especially in the early evening and also during the day, with shouts of ‘Bo kata’ emerging from the street every now and then. Once in a while, some kid would knock at the door saying that his kite has landed in our courtyard which he wanted to retrieve or disentangle it from the tree in the front yard.

Somehow, kites began to disappear from our skies and now one hardly sees anyone running after the dropping kite — his or someone else’s. Though I have used the masculine pronoun, the activity was not restricted to boys; young girls were often seen side by side, though the older ones would be flying the kites from their rooftops.

Kite flying is not something unique to our part of the world, nor is it a new phenomenon. Although the history of kites is debatable, it is generally believed that the kite was first invented in China some 2,000 years ago. There is an interesting legend that suggests that a peasant’s straw hat flew off his head, but followed him in the air attached to a thread from his clothing — perhaps it was the first inspiration for kites.

It is also said that a Chinese general, Han Hsin, of the Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD) would flow a kite over the walls of the city he was about to attack to calculate the distance between his army and the city wall, in order to dig a tunnel. It would help him surprise the enemy and achieve victory.

Kite flying spread along the trade route from China to Korea and then to India. Around the seventh century, kites were brought to Japan by Buddhist monks. They used bamboo and silk kites for religious and ceremonial purposes, as invocations for a good harvest and to avert evil spirits. Between the 17th and the 19th century, the popularity of kite increased in Japan, when it became a sport for the masses to indulge in.

Kites arrived late in Europe, although windsock-like banners were known and used by the Romans. It is said that the kite was introduced to Europe by Marco Polo around 1295. Also, since English, Dutch and Portuguese merchants were routinely travelling to the Far East in the 16th century, the sailors learned how to make kites and brought the knowledge home.

Kites were used by ancient and medieval Chinese for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signalling, and communication for military operations. Over the years, kites have been used for various purposes, such as to deliver messages, ward off evil, discover natural phenomena, raise banners and so on.

During the 18th century, kites were also used in the field of science, for example for measuring air temperature and to study the electrical nature of lightning. The latter experiment was later used to develop weather-forecasting techniques using the kite.

Before Wright brothers developed the first airplane, several different designs of man-lifting kites were developed. So, we can say that kites were also instrumental in the research and invention of airplane.

During the World War I, British, French, Italian and Russian armies all used kites as a way to observe the enemy and for signalling. Then during World War II, the US Navy used kites to prevent airplanes from flying too low over targets, and for target practice and aircraft recognition at sea.

Kites were initially made of materials that were readily available, including silk fabric for sail, fine high-tensile-strength silk for the flying line, and resilient bamboo for a strong, lightweight framework. However, by 549AD, paper began to be used to make kites.

With time and as a result of technology and availability of newer materials, kite-making skills have evolved and flexible lightweight synthetic materials, such as rip-stop nylon, plastic film, carbon fibre tube and rod, are being used for making kites, which make them stronger and more durable. Synthetic rope and cord, such as nylon, polyethylene, Kevlar and dyneema, are used as bridle and kite line. They come in a variety of designs and have also become vehicles for social-messaging and artistic expression.

Today, kite flying is a worldwide sport, pastime and recreation in almost every culture. In Asia, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan, people often indulge in ‘kite fights’, where they attempt to cut the kite strings of their competitor’s, bringing the kite down. Children love to cut any kite that come near theirs.

Kite festivals

Kite festivals are a popular form of entertainment throughout the world. In many countries, traditional festivals have been held for hundreds of years that attract kite flyers from other countries to display their unique kites and demonstrate the latest technically advanced kites. Young and old alike enjoy the kite festivals that are celebrated annually, and the sky is taken over by kites in different colours, shapes, concepts and sizes, which is a visual treat for the spectators. Some kites are so big that they need to be carried by more than one person. Visitors also enjoy kite-making demonstrations and a night-time kite-flying display during these festivals.

Along with kite festivals, many countries have kite museums which focus on historical kites and preserving the country’s kite-related traditions.

Fun facts

• The smallest kite in the world which actually flies is 5mm high.

• The largest number of kites flown on a single line is 11,284 this record is held by a Japanese kite maker.

• The largest kite in the world is the Megabite, 55 x 22 metres (630sq metres).

• The fastest recorded speed of a kite is over 120 mph (193 km/h).

• The record for the highest single kite flown is 3,801 metres (12,471ft).

• The world record for the longest ‘kite fly’ is 180 hours.

• Kite flying was banned in Japan in 1760 because too many people preferred to fly kites than work.

• The Chinese believe that looking at kites high in the sky maintains good eyesight.

• More adults in the world fly kites than children.

• Kite flying is one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

• You do not need wind to fly a kite.

• Alexander Bell, the inventor of the telephone, also developed the tetrahedral kite, which was very successfully used for carrying a man.

• In 1901, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi used a hexagon kite to transmit the first radio signals across the Atlantic, the kite line was used as the aerial.

• Some Japanese kites weigh over two tonnes. And some of the longest Chinese Dragon kites are over 600 metres long.

Facts courtesy: kite-agency.com

Published in Dawn, Young World, June 3rd, 2023



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