How kites came to be | Sunday Observer

How kites came to be








Let's Go Fly a Kite
With tuppence for paper and
You can have your own set of
With your feet on the ground
You're a bird in a flight
With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite
Oh, oh, oh!

Let's go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let's go fly a kite and send it
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let's go fly a kite!

When you send it flyin’ up there
All at once you're lighter than air
You can dance on the breeze
Over 'ouses and trees
With your…
(This song from Mary Poppins tells us about the joy of flying a kite. Today, we will look at the history of kites.  



Kites have been in existence for over 2500 years and a (468 – 376 BCE) Chinese philosopher named Mozi (468 – 376) is credited with having inspired the kite. He spent three years perfecting a wooden bird shaped like an eagle and managed to keep it airborne for a whole day before it broke. Mozi also taught his pupil Lu ban his skills and Lu ban came up with the idea of using bamboo which is light weight and managed to keep his kite in the air for three days.

The first written record of a kite being used comes from China when a kite was flown over enemy territory by a General during the Han Dynasty. He wanted to measure the length for a tunnel to be dug secretly under the enemy camp. Soon, kites were also used for other military purposes like signaling and messaging.

In the early days Chinese kites were made of materials like bamboo and silk. Some kites were hand painted and these were very expensive. They were also rectangular and not bowed. Later, a tailless kite had a bow line added for better stability. Mythological motifs and legendary figures decorated these early kites. Muyuan was the name given to the wooden kites and paper kites were called Ziyuan.

When during the Eastern Hang Dynasty paper was invented kites became very popular with the ordinary people too.


It is said that kites or tako as they are called in Japanese were introduced to Japan by Buddhist bhikkhus and were initially used in religious ceremonies and as talismans.The Japanese Government thought that kite flying distracted people from work so only the privileged Samurai were allowed to do kite flying at first.

Kite flying became very popular during the Edo period . Many beautiful kites were made and the ordinary people were also allowed to fly them.

Wadako, the traditional Japanese kites are fashioned out of bamboo rods and washi (Japanese paper). Kakudako are rectangular kites and yakkodako are human-shaped kites which are very popular among the wide range of Japanes kites. Koinobori or the carp (koi) kite is shaped like a fish and has a tail and a pole fixed to its mouth with its open mouth attached to a pole and its tail fluttering free in the wind.

A Japanese thief once used a kite to carry him to the top of the Castle at Nagoya and stole gold scales from an ornamental dolphin on the roof. He bragged about it, got caught and was executed along with his family.


Korean kite flying goes as far back as 637 AD – the reign of Queen Chindok of Silla. Some soldiers were asked to fight rebels but they refused as they had seen a shooting star and believed it would bring them bad luck. A General then attached a ball of fire to a kite and flew it and tricked the soldiers into thinking the shooting star had returned to heaven.

Traditional Korean kites are known as yeon and comes in over a 100 designs.

In China, Japan and Korea kites are flown at festivals, competitions and other special occasions.


It is thought that the South Sea Islanders were among the first to use kites many hundreds of years ago.They use it as a fishing tool by fixing bait and a web to catch fish to the kite’s tail Solomon Islanders still use kites to fish.


The Maoris are the first inhabitants of New Zealand. Their kites were shaped like birds and they believed that kites could carry messages between gods and people. Reuha, a Maori God is depicted as a bird and is believed to be the ancestor of kites.To the maoris kite flying was a sacred ritual and was often done while chanting. This chant was called a turumanu. Manu is the Maori word for bird.They also used kites in funeral rituals.


Each Thai monarch had his own kites which Imperial monks flew continuously during winter. Thai people also flew kites during monsoons to carry their prayers to the gods.


Chines travellers Huin Tsang and FaHien are thought to have introduced kite flying to India in ancient times. The Indians called kites patang (Hindi for fighter kites). Different parts of India has kite festivals at different times. One of the most important is Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, in January - the day when winter ends and spring starts. Other noteworthy festivals are Basant Panchami in Punjab and Pongal in South India.

Kite fighting is popular in India and kite flyers try to cut or bring down opponents kites. Often, for this powdered glass is pasted to the string used to fly a kite.


The story of the kite and its making were first brought to Europe by Marco Polo towards the end of the 13 century. Sailors who sailed to Malaysia and Japan also brought kites back as souvenirs in the 16 and 17 centuries. Today, kites are used in the West not only for fun but for research as well.