By Susi Andrini
DENPASAR, Bali (JP): As they fly high in the sky, kites are a great leveler for those on the ground, loved by people of all ages and classes as an inexpensive, easy way to have a good time.
But who would have thought that a small kite festival started more than 20 years ago on a plot of disused land in Bali would today have an international reputation and draw kite lovers from across Asia, Europe and the U.S.?
The four-day 23rd Bali Kite Festival, scheduled to be opened next Thursday by Governor Dewa Made Bherata at Padanggalak Beach, will bring together kite flyers from within the country -- Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan -- and outside, including Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, the U.S., France and Australia. The festival led to the establishment of the Association of Indonesian Kite Flyers (Pelangi) in Lampung in 1996.
""This festival is really to preserve the culture of Bali in particular and Indonesia in general,"" said festival founder Si Nyoman Adnyana.
It's understandable that there might be a threat to tradition in this age of computer games and the Internet, but kites do not come up short in comparison to the modern activities. Kite flying is a form of sport and exercise, and it takes mathematical precision to make and fly one, cutting the bamboo for the right length frame and judging wind patterns.
Kites in the festival are of a different class from regular playthings, with a minimum five meters in length and each costing from Rp 3 million to Rp 5 million. The prizes available may not make up for the money expended on the kites, but that does not seem to matter to the hundreds and sometimes thousands of participants.
""What's important to me is not if I win or lose, but taking part and having fun,"" says kite flyer Kadek.
The festival, always held in conjunction with the month-long Bali Arts Festival in the period from May to August when winds are strong, also attracts crowds of spectators.
""The enthusiasm of the people from Bali and outside is extraordinary, including tourists and foreign residents, who jostle to participate and watch,"" said organizing official Radig.
Bali is taken over by kite-flying fever during the month. Motorists are warned to be extra careful as kids and adults, the latter probably reliving their childhood, take to the streets with their kites. People even fly the kites from the roofs of their homes, with activities beginning from about 2 p.m. and lasting well into the night.
On the positive side, the month brings a lot of business to cottage industries producing kites for the markets at Sukawati and Kambasari. Kite prices range from Rp 10,000 to Rp 500,000, depending on the quality. Some kites are used as interior decoration, hung on the walls or on the ceilings in attractive shapes of fish, birds, boats or even dragons.
Balinese choose colors for their kites very carefully as they usually symbolize their God in red, white, black and yellow, the colors that must be present in Balinese kites. Red symbolizes Brahma, the god believed to have created the universe. White belongs to God Vishnu, a god assigned to look after the universe. Black is the color of God Shiwa or Ishwara, the destroyer. The three gods are a trinity on which the universe and all its contents depend.
As for yellow, this is the color of Dewata Nawasanga, the eight gods of eight directions.
A rite must be held before kites are flown in Bali. Incense and flowers are offered to cleanse the kites from wickedness and breathe spirit into the kite.
A Balinese will not make a kite on just any day of the week. He will consult someone like a paranormal to tell him the auspicious days for kite-making.
When the kite season is over, the kites, just like human bodies, will be cremated in a specific rite. The cremation rite for a kite is called dipralina, which means that the kite, into which a spirit has been breathed, will be returned to its original form.
Kadek, a student of the engineering department of Udayana University, has taken part in kite festivals since he was an elementary school student. He knows all the rites related to kites but he also has tragic story which remains vivid in his mind.
A kite he was flying broke and fell on a child on the ground, killing him. Later, to ensure that his kite would not claim other victims, a dipralina rite was conducted.
The annual kite festival is unique in that the huge kites need many people to fly them. A kite measuring 7 m x 12 m, for example, will need at least 50 people. Kadek said if locals won the cash prize of Rp 5 million they would spend it on a village feast or throw a party for all involved in the making of his kite.
Legend has it that kite-flying originally came from mainland China. In its earliest form, a kite was made of leaves and stalks; in Bali, kite-flying was an expression of thanksgiving to the creator for rice harvests. While in Java, this gratitude is expressed to the Goddess Sri, the goddess of fertility, in Bali, said Nyoman, it is intended for God Batara. Nyoman had the idea to hold the first kite festival back in 1979 in an open space near rice fields in Tanjung-Bungkak in an attempt to preserve the tradition.
Twenty years later, Nyoman is on a mission to introduce Balinese kites to the world. In September 2000 he was invited to the U.S. to take part in the International Kite Festival. There he and Wayan Laje, an expert kite-maker in Bali, received the spectators' favorite kite award in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Two years ago he was invited to France and found the kites produced a music-like sound because of the blowing wind. In fact, small devices made of bamboo, leaves or plastic were added to the kites. The idea, so he was told, came from the Balinese kites using gewangan, something like a string of a guitar which will produce a sound when flown.
Nyoman said to the Balinese a kite and its gewangan philosophically symbolizes the harmony between a man and a woman.
For Nyoman, kites mean everything. They open up a window to the world and bring in peace. When kites are flown, dancing in the wind freely and in good balance, they symbolize mutual respect. They will be ready to welcome visitors from near and far in the next week.