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Cover story : 10 Mar 2004
Vol. 20 No. 23
From Kite Flying to Kite Fighting
By Thawat Watthana

One of Some Best Buys





Kite flying has been a popular pastime for people all over the world for a long, long time. Nobody knows who first invented and flew the kite, though according to The World Book Encyclopaedia, the Greek scientist, Archytus, made a kite in 400 B.C. and in ancient China, a general named Han Xin was recorded to have used it in a battle in 208 B.C. It seems reasonable to presume that kites were made in many places in the world independently without imitation since the process of making kites is simple and the materials used are easy to obtain.

Anyway, the Thai people can lay no claim to the invention of the kite in view of the short written history of their country covering only a little over 700 years. However, the art of making and flying kites has been developed to a higher level in Thailand than many other countries in the world, and the Thais are proud of this.

In other countries, people may be content to fly their kites smoothly in the air. When they want to add some excitement to the recreation, they do nothing more than treating the kite strings with powdered glass and trying to cut each other's kite off. But the Thais have elevated kite flying from child's play to a national competitive sport for adults with standardized rules.
Left: A Chula kite
Right: A renowned kite flyer in King Chulalongkorn's time with his Pakpao kite
This has been possible because the weather conditions in Thailand are particularly suitable for kite flying during the dry season which lasts from November to April.

During this period, wind almost never fail to blow, first from the mainland towards the coast and then from the ocean towards the mainland. Also during this period, there is hardly any rainfall at all and the sky is clear and bright. This is also the slack season in farming, when rural people have plenty of free time to spare. With all these favourable factors added together, it is no wonder that kite flying has been so popular in this country ever since the founding of the Sukhothai Kingdom over 700 years ago.
Tourists attracted by many colourful kites
Evidence of this popularity can be found in mural paintings, in literary works and in historical records.
A kite maker concentrating on his work
Thai mural paintings, mostly found on the walls of Buddhist temples, are an important source of visual evidence of the way of life in ancient times.

They depict scenes of daily life of the relevant period as well as stories related to the Buddhist faith. Such scenes are found in murals in several important temples, such as Wat Ratchapradit next to the Foreign Ministry, Bangkok, Wat Pradu Songtham of Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Sing of Chiang Mai and Wat Matchimawat of Songkhla.
Kite flying is also mentioned, described or eulogized in several major Thai literary works, including poems, dramas and Phra Aphai Mani, a story in verse written by Sunthon Phu, the foremost poet in Thai history, who was named by the UNESCO the Classic Poet of the World in 1986.

Several Thai kings were recorded to have particular connections with kite flying in some way or other. As early as the Sukhothai period (1238-1438), King Phra Ruang* was mentioned in a chronicle of northern Thailand as enjoying this sport. In the early Ayutthaya period (1350-1767), kite flying was so popular that an unspecified king had to issue a royal decree, possibly as a security measure, to forbid the flying of kites over the Royal Palace. Offenders were punishable by cutting off the hands

Narai the Great (1656-1688) was another king known to have a special liking for kite flying. De la Loubere, the envoy from King Louis XIV of France, wrote that the king's kite could be seen in the night sky over the palace throughout the two winter months with courtiers assigned to hold the kite string in turn. Father Pere Qui Tachard, also sent by Louis XIV, recorded that when Narai stayed at Lop Buri, kites in various shapes were flown round the palace at night with lanterns and small bells hanging from them to give light and sound.
In the reign of Phra Phet Racha (1688-1703), kites were employed in the suppression of a rebellion. After failing to capture the rebels' stronghold of Nakhon Ratchasima in his first attempt, the commander from the capital had pots of gunpowder tied to the strings of the big Chula kites, which were flown over the town.
Then the fuses, which ran parallel to the strings, were lit and the explosives blew up, causing fires to the thatched wooden houses in the town. Following the resulting turmoil, the king's army forced their way into the city and put down the revolt.
In the early Bangkok period, King Rama II (1809-1824) and his younger brother, Prince Maha Senanurak, were both fond of flying kites, so much so that they were identified with the Chula kite and the Pakpao kite respectively in a saying of the time. But it was not until the reign of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn 1868-1910) that kite flying as a sport reached its zenith in Thai history.

In 1906, Chulalongkorn organized the first ever kite fighting contest at Dusit Palace with many members of the royal family and high-ranking officials participating.

The competitors were divided into two camps, one flying Chula and the other Pakpao. The winner was awarded the Royal Gold Cup. The contest was held annually until the king's death in 1910.
Colourful and strangely-shaped
kites for sale at Sanam Luang
Then the popularity of kite flying dropped to a low ebb, because following the changes of the times, people became busier and busier making their living and large vacant spaces became fewer and fewer in Bangkok and other cities.
Children enjoy flying kites
It was not until April 1983 that a Kite Festival was held in Bangkok and the unique kite fighting contest was revived with Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presiding over the ceremony at Sanam Luang adjacent to the Grand Palace. Since then, the festival has been held at the same place annually.

A kite fight in Thailand is always between a Chula and a Pakpao. The Chula kite roughly resembles a 5-pointed star. But only the upper triangle has a sharp point and straight sides. The two horizontal arms are rather fat with convex sides and the two legs are also fat, each with a concave side and a convex side. Placed standing on the ground, it looks like a man wearing a pointed hat with arms akimbo and legs wide apart.

A standard Chula is 7 ft. (2.13 m.) high. It is very heavy in flight and several people are needed to handle it. It has 3 "craws" affixed to the string a few metres from the kite and 8 inches from each other. Made of split bamboo, the craws are the Chula's weapons used to entangle the string of the Pakpao.
The Pakpao is like a diamond in shape and has a long tail to give it stability. It is much smaller than a Chula with a length of no more than 32 inches (81.28 cm.). It also has a weapon called a niang, which is a loop formed just under the point where the long string meets the two short strings tied to the kite. The loop's function is also to snare the enemy.

Both the Chula and Pakpao are quite different from any other kite in design and in performance. Both are exquisitely made and are highly manoeuvrable in the air. That is why the kite flier must be very skillful in order to win the contest.

In a kite contest, the field is divided into two parts -- the windward and the leeward. The Chula team occupies the former and the Pakpao team the latter. As mentioned above, there are well-defined rules for the contest.
The main point is for the Chula to try to catch the Pakpao and bring it to Chula's territory. On the Pakpao's part, the object is to foil the rival's attempt and to cause it to drop to the Pakpao's own territory. The fight is thus full of fun and excitement. In view of the different sizes, shapes and actions in the air, the Chula is compared to a male and the Pakpao a female. As the Chula is much bigger and has more deadly weapons, the Pakpao is allowed a 2-1 advantage in a fight.

Every year, the Kite Festival takes place at Sanam Luang next to the Grand Palace from late February to early April, during which exhibitions and contests of other kinds of traditional Thai sports and games will also be held. This year, the festival will be organised magnificently in order to celebrate the 72nd birthday anniversary of H.M. Queen Sirikit which will be completed on 12 August 2004. Besides the exciting activities, performances of Thai traditional music will also be held. There are thousands of people and hundred of kites waiting for you to join them. If you go with your friends or family, you can rent a mat and enjoy snacks and soft drinks while watching.

The kite festival is also held annually at Phrachuap Khiri Khan Province. This year, it will take place from 13-14 March. For more information, please contact Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office,
Tel: 0 3247 1005-6.
*The term Phra Ruang has been used loosely to refer to several Sukhothai monarchs. It is not clear which of the nine kings of the Sukhothai Kingdom is referred to here.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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