Kites in Bali: high hopes for an abundant harvest

Kite-flying is not just a pastime in Bali; it’s a tradition. When winds are favourable, and a heavenly message needs to be sent, the Balinese construct massive kites and fly them sky-high to let the gods know that the people wish for an abundant harvest.

Kites in Bali have existed for a long time and are often regarded as religious objects. Kites were initially used to send messages to the gods above and were constructed in such a way to depict Hindu gods. Red, black, and white are commonly used colours. The most common shapes are called bebean and janggan, or fish and bird, respectively. The bebean looks like a gigantic fish with an open mouth, while the janggan boasts a long tail reaching over 100 meters in length to imitate a majestic bird flying in the sky! The pecukan is another common kite; it is shaped like a leaf and is the hardest to fly because it’s precarious.

When it comes to kites, it’s all about teamwork. Villagers come together at the village hall to construct kites. They all pool in something – from materials, money, or even snacks – so everything works smoothly. During certain stages of construction, priests are called to bless the kite. Once the kite is finished, it is then transported to the beach or any other open area with strong winds to be flown. It takes a coordinated effort to get the kites off the ground. With more giant kites, sometimes a 300-meter sprint is needed to get it airborne! Usually, 70-80 people are on the kite team, sometimes more, depending on the size.

In Bali, July to early September is usually kite season due to good winds. The annual Bali Kite Festival is also held during these months. It is an international event that involves hundreds of villages competing for their kites with one another. And when I say competition, I mean it. From trash-talking to aerial dogfights, the adrenaline is high. For the peaceful, there are also non-traditional kites or “New Creation”, which deviate from traditional shapes and are purely artistic. It is usually held at Padang Galak Beach in Sanur and is a great event for seeing a modern version of Balinese tradition!