2018 Aug 15
If you happen to drive by Galle Face Green on any given day, you’ll notice the colourful specks dotting the brilliant blue sky. Kite flying has developed into a core part of Sri Lankan culture and if the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that our enthusiasm for kites isn’t dying anytime soon!
How did Lankans catch Kite Fever?
While certain historians believe that the kite was first invented between 400 and 300 BC by Achytes of the Greek city of Tarentum, many credit the Chinese, who evidence a history of kite flying even before 1000 BC. The Chinese had access to materials ideal for kite building: high-tensile-strength silk for flying line; and resilient bamboo for a strong, lightweight framework. Most claim that it was China who introduced kites to its neighbouring Asian countries such as Thailand, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, and of course, Sri Lanka.
Back in the day, kite flying was a multipurpose activity. It was recorded that paper kites were used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources describe kites being used for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signaling, and communication for military operations. The Indians adapted the kite into a fighter kite, where kite fights are still a fun pastime.
34 years ago, in 1964, the first collapsible kite was flown in Sri Lanka by Clement de Silva, a 14 year old school boy from Moratuwa. Made of cloth, cane, aluminum, and nylon thread, the ‘Flying Hawk’ took only thirty rupees to make, flew over the skies of Negombo, and brought its both owner prizes and glory.
Flying the ‘Sarungale’ Today
One of the most popular summer activities in Sri Lanka now (which is great, since summer is basically all year round!) is kite flying, especially during the school holidays of July and August. Kite flying is both a fun and unique pastime of the 21st century, and has made way for tons of kite festivals and competitions in Sri Lanka, where thousands amass to witness the colourful skies. Most importantly, kite flying fuels creativity! Although kites are now commercial enough that one can buy a readymade one if needed, many Sri Lankans stick to their practice of making their own kites.
It’s simple enough of course! All it takes is some thread, coloured tissue paper, gum, and coconut eakles! Pushing the boundaries of creativity, Lankan kites come in all shapes, colours, and designs, with special attention given to the tail of the kite, both functional and absolutely striking if done right.
In Sri Lanka, the practice has even evolved into the sport of Kitesurfing, common in areas such as Kalpitiya. In fact, kite flying has been rapidly increasing in the Northern regions of the country, where the 26 year long civil war had stunted the activity for a while. Now it’s back, and last year a mammoth kite flying festival was held in Jaffna, where hundreds of kites adorned the skies for a Thaipongal celebration like never before. The event was organized with the intention of promoting goodwill and reconciliation between the civilians and members of the Security Forces in the peninsula, and most importantly helped bring back a joyful practice!
Go Fly a Kite, men!
Although in Sri Lanka this popular expression is used as a hilarious way of telling someone to ‘kindly excuse themselves’ (in polite terms), it’s now time to actually go fly a kite! If it’s been a while since you have, get back into the spirit, because it’s officially kite season!
The largest kite festival in Sri Lanka, the Derana International Kite Festival Sri Lanka 2018, is being held on the 19th of August, this Sunday. Last year, the event drew a crowd of 500,000 people and an unbelievable turnout is expected this year as well. From 1 pm onwards at Galle Face Green, the skies will be filled with colourful kites like never before and filled with music, festivities, and a grand musical performance in the evening.
Officially on the International Kite Calendar, this is an experience not to miss if you’re lucky enough to be in Colombo. The event has competitions, where the Junior categories are awarded for Most Creative Kite and Most Colourful Kite. Further competitions include prizes for the Smallest Kite, Biggest Kite, Most Creative Kite, and Most Colourful Kite. On an international scale, participants from 14 countries will take part!
In short, if you’re looking for the ideal opportunity to experience kites in all their glory, catch some salty sea breeze on a Sunday, and even get that perfect Instagram capture, the Derana International Kite Festival Sri Lanka 2018 is where you should be.