Dragon Kites and Legends from around the World
The Early Ancient History of the Dragon Kite
Chinese folklore is rich in tales of dragon kites legends being flown both for purpose and pleasure. Some of the most interesting tales, however, are the stories of how Chinese dragon kites were used to help fight off intruders in the event of an attack. While it may seem surprising that dragon kites were used as weapons of ambush in ancient times, they proved quite efficient in scaring and confusing the enemies at hand.
In order to better understand how a dragon kite could be used in an attack, one must hear this tale-one of the most widespread accounts of the dragon kite's origin ever to be told-which describes the use of a kite engineered by old time Chinese General Han Hsin.
Legend has it, that while preparing to attack an enemy's fortified palace, the general slowly released his kite into the air, and used it to measure the distance remaining between his forces and the old fortress walls. Using the length of his line as a guide, he ordered his men to begin digging tunnels, quietly, so that when the time came, they could hide in the dugouts and crawl through those tunnels to get in the palace from underneath its walls. After the tunnels had finally been completed, many believe that General Han Hsin tied his kite to a nearby tree and left it to fly alone overhead. The enemy forces were distracted by the frightening and colorful dragon kite which sailed high over the palace walls. As they watched the kite and searched the ground for attackers, Han Hsin's men were already inside the palace, surprising its unprepared defenders. The use of the dragon kite in this ancient military ambush led to a victory for the wise kite keeper, General Hsin.
More Dragon Kite History
Continuing until the beginning of the Christian era, during the Han Dynasty in China, kites-according to legend-caused many troops to flee in terror.
Kites were sometimes used to send messages in times of war. An army of the Han Dynasty once used superstition to frighten their enemy, one night at their enemy's camp. When two warriors located an invading army camp just miles from their palace grounds, they began to devise a plan to rid of them for good. They used a dragon kite, whose face was painted to show a fierce and fiery expression, to chase the invaders from their territory. By tying light bamboo sticks along the shaft of their kite, they knew their kite would moan and whistle when it flew wildly through the wind of the night. As the air whipped through the stretches of bamboo, the dragon kite made load screeching noises that terrified the army camp, and caused them to run away into retreat.
It was thought that the screaming sounds of the flying dragon overhead were a sign from the gods, warning them not to invade the palace the next day. They believed that the mighty dragon flew to their camp to declare that they would be defeated, should they chose to fight. Thus, the enemy was rooted.
In Polynesia, kites have long been seen as a means of making contact with the heavens. Records of ancient folklore indicate that kites have been interpreted to be "the toys of the gods." In many cases, Polynesian kites were associated birds, and were constructed to imitate that type of configuration.
Most often, a native bark cloth, called "tapa" was used in combination with wood, feathers, and sea shells, to produce a rattling sound in flight.
Dragon Kite Craftsmanship
The unique talent and artistic skill required to construct an authentic dragon kite is not easily learned. Key Chinese craftsmen from all walks of life have been trained through a long and difficult apprenticeship to create ceremonial dragon kites for holidays, parades, and other traditional celebrations.
Dragon Kite Symbolism
Though China was the birthplace of the kite, many other eastern cultures have developed their own distinctive kite designs and traditions.
Instead of using the kite as an object of war, the Japanese saw the kite as a ceremonial and religious symbol. Ancient Japanese kite décor is present in many old world paintings that feature religious subjects. This is because the Japanese revered their kites, and thought them to possess pious qualities beyond their own limited human capabilities.
Kites fly skyward toward the heavens, allowing them to reach far closer to the dwellings of the gods than any mortal could ever hope to achieve. In times of ancient history, before the inventions of the satellite or airplane, kites were the ultimate extension of a human spirit into space. The string bound by the kite carrier connected him with the soaring dragon he let sail in the sky. He controlled its path; it's destiny. It was a colorful display of paper, fabric and string, dancing in the air to the tune of the wind. Flying a dragon kite was a creative, expressive way to pay homage to one's ancestors, and one's gods.
One ancient Japanese folklore story tells of a hero named Kintoki, who was said to have been raised by bears in the mountains and to have become the strongest man in Japan and then furthermore, made to be an aide to the royal emperor. Kintoki has been forever immortalized through a special symbolic Japanese kite called the "Sagara."
Sagara kites have the great Kintoki's face painted on them. They are a symbol of inward strength and the power to prosper. They are traditionally given by friends and family to young Japanese children as congratulatory gifts.
Kites decorated with a crane or turtle are said to symbolize long life; and most kites are believed to bring luck, frighten away evil spirits, promote fertility and provide good faming and fishing. Many superstitions reign from these ancient flying objects, and although they originated in China, each culture has incorporated its own designs, to exert independence in the kite revolution. Kite makers from around the world have their adapted their own methods of building and decorating these ancient toys, and kites remain to be one of the most esteemed old toys, across all countries and denominations.
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