Dotting the skyline in numerous assertions of its form, flying high up there in full gaiety, resplendent in each of the hues that sum up life, emerging as any of the many forms that the world encounters in its diversity, sparking a certain different kind of excitement, swaying along to the unfurling of a fun through its unending length in extension considerable enough to touch the sky itself, the distinction of kites is such that rests always in the lofty heights of an inexplicable allure. So closely adhering to the ideals of enjoyment is the kite that even in its cultural form of expression, it is typically associated with numerous many festivals and events the world over. An Asian phenomenon in origin but traditionally intertwined with the cultural realisation in festivities and celebrations the world over, kite flying is a tradition that continues to be as contemporary in the appeal of its fun filled fame with its high flying preeminence manifesting still as that so charming prospect of a fulfillingly free flourish.
Spanning back in time to several thousand years ago though the exact origin remains one arising out of speculation rather than being a confirmation in certainty, kites have been ruling the skies of the Asian continent as long as would like to believe. The earliest depiction of one such specimen in flying tradition occurs as an Indonesian identity, with a certain cave painting found in the Musa Island dating back to some 9000 years being the case in much renown. Occurring as a type called the kaghati that the modern Musa people still fly, this is a sturdy make of dry leaves with bamboo skin resilient enough to stay put in the air for a few days.
The encountering upon the kaghati as the world’s oldest and earliest kite though is a revelation to have dawned only as recently as in the year of 1997. For a long time till then and even today still prevailing in much popularity is the notion of the kite being a Chinese invention. Attributed to the 5th-century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban, these early kites would be most often made from different categories of silk as per the intention of their use.
After the invention of paper, by the Chinese again, kites also came to stem out of this considerably new material with the extant specimen of this kind dating back to 549 AD. But even in the Before Christ era, the Chinese had already dawned upon the kite a distinction beyond its more common usage. Legend has it that it had been as early as in 200 BC that Chinese General Han Hsin eked out curiously unconventional use out of a kite to such effect as consequential as the overthrowing of a tyrannical emperor! No wonder with such stirring anecdotes existing as to the many capacities in which kites were employed China has remained the most obvious citing in origin of this multi faceted entity which though took upon also other rather inventive tasks in as much traditionality as well.
The Chinese endowing of military almost purpose upon the kite though isn’t anything rather uncommon since similar such uses had indeed been scouted out for them in the early world setup as well. Within this sphere of utility, kites also came to reside in other related but different still dimensions of functionality. Everything from wind reading and distance measuring to communicating and ‘singing’ were deemed as possible avenues for kites to spawn a rather extensive expanse in usage. Outside these very calculated and precise realms of working brought upon kites, they have also been led on a more existential way of life. Fishing primarily tends to be a somewhat surprising but common still area of working to which kites have been subjected and in rather early prevalence of them.
Originating perhaps in the Malaysian traditions of making kites out of leaves and vegetation as simple woven and pieced structures, kite fishing today is a much attractive proposition in recreation particularly in Western countries. The effectiveness of it in functionality though tends to be no any lesser pronounced as well, with the special make and design of fishing kites allowing for the provision of lures or baits to be attached to it. Rather convenient is this technique of kite fishing in such cases where mobility in waters or access to them might not be as readily available or even when the concern of safety needs to be addressed. In its more popular prevalence today as a sport, kite fishing stays true still to the more than dynamic range of uses that the kite has been known to be fluent in, working out this time the rather essential requirement in entertainment.
Even in such distinct Asian reputation in kite flying, it still has been China that played the instrumental role in its popular global spread everywhere from Indian and Japan and Korea to Arabia and North Africa and the Easter Island. Particularly in India, the tradition of kite flying managed to emerge as a distinctive expression of culture and heritage, evolving uniquely to such types and forms that essentially introduced the festive, fun element into its design and scheme of essence.
The exclusively distinctive identity of the Indian entailing is one spectacular indeed in the very revealing of it in visage. Colorful, pretty and enticing elements of the characteristic allure that we had waxed eloquent over at the outset and that which makes the whole kite flying unfurling the so charming narrative one could seek out all fun and frolic and enjoyment in, these fighter kites colloquially called patangs make for a sight to savor in their ‘competitive’ playing out against each other, of course under the expert command over the one who exerts complete control over the murderous almost manja. A particular attraction during the spring festival of Basant and the harvest observance of Makar Sankranti as well as in other occasions of ritualistic observance is this culturally vibrant and popular expression that gained particular prominence in India during the days of the Mughal rule in the country.
Beyond this picture painted in the hues and joys of a social and cultural indulgence, partaken of in festive spirit and fervor by Indians specially in the northern part of the country, even as exclusive kite festivals independent of any essential theme and reasons of characterisation too are held in annual frequency and in as much popularity, kites hold another altogether different place of pride and importance in the very essence of the Indian existence. A must practised tradition accompanying the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations, signifying of course the spirit of freedom imbuing the high flying, free movement of the kites themselves but encompassing also another momentous assertion in actuality is the kite flying spectacle that inspires feelings of awe and patriotism alike in their impeccably well performed spanning.
The tradition draws upon the historical account of the 1927 protest against the Simon Commission, so popularly evoked a reference in its resounding Go Back Simon call that even found mention upon kites flown in the skies. As therefore a symbol of independence, in itself as well as in specific alluding to the Indian expression in freedom from the oppressive British rule, kite flying shapes up very much the identity of our nation as something only furthering the immensely appealing cultural resplendence of it.
The Silk Route most certainly had been the lane through which kites set their sail in India, brought into the country by Chinese Buddhist monks Huin Tsang and F Hien. But while that would obviously be a very early development, it wouldn’t be until the times of the Mughals that kite flying would come to enjoy popularity. Patronised by many a Mughal rulers, be it Babar or his son Akbar and continuing thus as a pursuit in leisure and recreation by Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shaz Zafat alike, patangbazi as that exhilarating experience in kite fighting over and above its premise of flying was explored. In fact so passionate had been the royals of the Mughal dynasty about kites that they even had large patang khanas specially meting out for them magnificent specimens of the crafts. Outside the Mughals, it also were the Lucknowi Nawabs who made sure that this art and craft alike flourished and in such royal indeed assertions that even saw special fighter kites decorated with real gold and silver fringes!
It though is the Mughal association that most marks the route through which kites unfurled along the expanse of the Indian skies. Even the earliest known reference to kites in the country happens to be some 16th century Mughal miniature paintings or a contemporary account of its drawing by Sufi poet Sheikh Manjan. The representation in either case happens to be, quite interestingly recounting in love in the human experience of that emotion setting perhaps the basis for kites to come to encompass human like traits and attributes. And thus patang emerges as the ‘male’ kite and the guddi as its female counterpart, exactly opposite of each other in their dimension, even as the lantern carrying ones that which presents as that prospect in magical profession of love identifies as the chagg.
Much like the types and variants that span also numerous other names outside of the three we have mentioned, and not just in the Indian reference but emerging differently in different cultures and countries across the world, it also is the terminology of kite flying, more appropriately kite fighting that tends to be equally distinctive. Come the season of festivals marked by the Indian skies speckled with different shapes and sizes and colors and assertions of them and excited, emotion filled utterances of ‘dheel de’ and ‘khainch de’ and encounters in ‘pech’ and patangbazi fills the air as a very frenzied celebration of the humble kite that which has spurred such unmistakably classic emotions indeed of what spell out as ‘Kai po cheeee’!