July is certainly a busy month around the globe: with Ramadan coming to an end world-wide, and the arrival of Galungan in Bali — there is no shortage of festivity. But for those looking for something a bit more light-hearted, be sure to check out the Bali Kite Festival that comes to Sanur Beach this month from the 18th to the 20th.
Now in its 36th year, the Bali Kite Festival began as a harvest celebration in which kites were used to take offerings and prayers to the divinities that sat high above the Island of the Gods. And while religiosity remains an integral part of the festival for many participants, this event has become more of an aerial art show than holy procession, at least for spectators.
Easily reaching over 100 metres in length, these fluttering ribbons of Balinese craftsmanship sway and flap vibrantly against Bali’s tropically blue sky, and are a spectacle that are hard to imagine elsewhere..
Kites anywhere from ten to 100 metres are hauled along dusty back roads of Bali’s interior by pickups filled with members of the responsible banjar (male-only youth groups that create the kites) until they reach Padang Galak at Sanur beach stretch (just north of Sanur, and roughly 30 — 45 minutes from The Legian Bali). Here they unload not only these colourful handmade bamboo-and-fabric kites, but all of the components of the traditional gamelan orchestra that will hum, rattle and clang to each kite troupe’s performance.
Once all of the teams have arrived and unloaded their wares, a schedule is mapped out for the weekend-long competition. Teams are graded on their ability to launch their kites, maintain airtime, and the design of each kite, and while the gamelan performance never plays a large factor in grading, it’s certainly a welcome traditional accompanying piece that will undoubtedly remind you where you are. Although most kites you’ll find here are uniformly of the bamboo nature, with red, white and black fabrics, and resemble one of just three prominent Balinese designs — the bebean (fish), janggan (bird) or pecukan (leaves) – there is much diversity to be found in the smaller intricacies and nuances of these soaring pieces of art, such as subtle motif and design variances, and the differentiation of each troupe’s construction methods.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of these kites, and the element which you will find the most diversity in – and probably joy – however, is in the tails of the janggan style kites. Easily reaching over 100 metres in length, these fluttering ribbons of Balinese craftsmanship sway and flap vibrantly against Bali’s tropically blue sky, and are a spectacle that are hard to imagine elsewhere. Add in the gamelan ringing from nearby, and you’ve got something uniquely, and beautifully, Balinese.
While the festival is a huge draw for the local kite makers, don’t be surprised to see a deluge of international sponsors and kite designers descend upon the small Indonesian island over the weekend as well. Showing off 3-D designs, branded kites, and new innovations within the field, these international visitors are largely responsible for the kaleidoscope of colour that sits against the Balinese’s mostly tri-coloured backdrop.
For visitors wondering about seating and admission, worry not, because this event is both free and open to the public. Flag-lined streets will indicate the location clear enough, and once there, feel free to set up camp wherever, and for however long you want, to take in the airborne art. With roadside vendors hawking food and drinks, and enough open space, turning the day into a picnic outing is yet another way to enjoy the festivities. Just remember to keep your head on a swivel, because there’s no telling when an incoming kite might get a bit up close and personal as it careens out of the sky.
A lovely weekend out, this festival is a once-a-year occurrence – and while smaller kites are a common site on many of the Indonesian isles year-round, it isn’t until the Bali Kite Festival that one can admire the creativity, ingenuity and grace of the Balinese kite makers in all their glory.
(Featured image: What began as a religious tradition has steadily evolved into one of the more visitor-friendly celebrations on the island of Bali. Hosted at Padang Galak beachside in Sanur the Bali Kite Festival is a colourful day out that is half religious ceremony and half competition and pits youth groups from across the island against one another in a competition of craftsmanship and piloting ability.)