The Shepherd Boy

This is story from Bali that explains the origins of kites. The Balinese believe that the first kite was feather plucked from the neck of a long necked goose. Today, one of the sacred aspects of kite flying in Bali is to remember the shepherd boy and the Hindu gods Vishnu and Siva.

The shepherd leaned back against the tree and breathed in the fragrance of the sweet field grasses. Through half-open eyes he watched his bull methodically grazing in the field. The warmth of the sun relaxed him, and gave him a sense of well-being. Soon he began to doze, allowing his mind to wander. In his mind's eye he saw a beautiful young woman, her long black hair caught up in a thick glossy braid. Her skin was smooth and brown and her flashing friendly eyes were as black as night-velvet.

The shepherd roused himself and reached for a leather pouch he'd brought along with him. Within, he found a small pot of ink, a long quill and a fresh sheet of parchment, and he began to sketch the young woman he'd created in his imagination. In little time the image of the woman in his daydream appeared on the paper. The shepherd smiled, pleased with himself.

Suddenly a shadow fell upon the parchment. With a start the shepherd looked up to behold the king of the land staring down at him.

"Who is that beautiful young girl?" demanded the king, pointing down at the shepherd's drawing. His voice was sharp and impatient.

"She lives in my heart, sire," stammered the shepherd, at once terrified and awed by the sight of the king enwrapped in his magnificent silks. "She lives but in my imagination."

The king smiled wickedly. "I demand that you bring her to me, for I mean to make her my queen!"

"But Your Majesty!" cried the shepherd, "she is not a woman of flesh and bone, but a vapour, a fantasy of my own creation!"

"And yet I intend to make her my queen and my wife," the king snarled, moving his face menacingly close to the shepherd's. "If you should fail to bring her to me by tomorrow's sunset, you shall pay with your life!" The King laughed, leaving the shepherd quaking.

The poor shepherd didn't know what to do. How could he find the young woman when she was nothing more than a winged shadow, a flight of his fancy? It was impossible, he knew. With his mind whirling in confusion and fear, he leapt up and stumbled into the forest, the tears coursing down his cheeks, until in exhaustion he collapsed under a mahogany tree. He closed his eyes and slowly concentrated on regaining his breath and clearing his mind. As he calmed himself, he became aware of a presence behind him.

Terrified that it might be the kind or one of his manservants, he pitched himself forward and twisted around to look. There stood a monster, a huge blue hairy beast with enormously broad shoulders, a red mane like a lion's and long dagger sharp teeth.

The shepherd was horrified, but when he saw the gentleness of the monster's large green eyes, the fear quickly subsided and was replaced with respect.

I know why you are running, Shepherd,"said the monster in a low rumble, reaching out and touching the shepherd's head. "I can help you if you wish. You will not need to leave thisisland, you home, if you choose to follow my advice."

The shepherd was calmed by the deep timbre of the monster's voice, and the warmth of its hand on his head was like the healing rays of the sun. He felt he could trust the monster completely.

"I do believe that you can help me," he told the monster, "and I trust you not to lead me astray."

"Very well, then," replied the monster, "my suggestion is simple." The monster reached under a flowering bush and there he found a long-necked goose. With the same care that he had shown the shepherd, he gently caressed the bird. Then he deftly plucked a pure white feather from the goose's neck.

"Follow this feather where ever the wind takes it," he told the shepherd. "The wind shall not fail you if you continue to believe and trust." With that, the monster held the feather up and blew on it, sending it floating up into the trees. The shepherd hardly dared to take the time to thank the monster. He quickly ran after the feather and followed it as it darted between the trees. He could feel a breeze gently blowing against his back, yet at times it seemed that the feather ignored the wind, hovering for a few moments to allow the shepherd to catch up to it. And then it would be off again.

The shepherd followed the feather out of the forest and over rice paddies and meadows toward a mountain that was covered with a lushness of trees and bushes festooned with brightly coloured blossoms. The shepherd reached the mountain as the sun was setting, and for a moment he was afraid he would lose sight of the feather in the darkness of night. But the feather seemed to carry its own light, and with the help of the moonlight, the shepherd easily followed it up the mountain. He marveled at how he didn't seem to tire if he concentrated solely on the feather floating in front of him.

All night long he followed the feather, until, just as dawn threw her majestically coloured cape over the sky, he reached the top of the mountain. There the feather stopped, glowing brightly, and the shepherd sat on the ground, wondering, waiting.

As the feather continued to glow, it seemed to the shepherd that he could hear singing, a beautiful music that came from beyond the lavender-hued clouds. The feather glowed more intensely as the singing around him, catching up his hair and swirling it around, as the wind from scores of wings tossed the feather gently on its current. Sprites, or devas, appeared from behind the morning clouds, and hovered singing, over the mountain top.

The shepherd was speechless. He had never seen such beautiful beings. All of them, male and female, were wonderfully attired in exotically coloured batiks and feathers. A myriad of colour, turquoise, scarlet, orange and violet, seemed to paint the sky in a living rainbow. From their ears and around their necks, the devas wore gems of all sorts and garlands of brilliantly coloured flowers. The deva closest to the shepherd touched his hand. The shepherd gasped, for she was the image of the young woman he had first seen in his mind and had them sketched on parchment. In his hear he thanked the monster. Then he explained his situation to her.

"If I do not deliver you to the king by sundown, he shall kill me, for he means to make you his wife. Can you help?"

"Do you believe that the feather the monster gave you has led you in the right direction?" the deva asked the shepherd, her face kindly and her eyes sparkling.

"Yes, indeed I do," the shepherd answered her.

"Then continue to trust," she said, and placed a calming had on his heart.

Suddenly there was an uncanny stillness in the air. The devas stopped singing and turned their faces in unison toward the sky.

"Siva comes," whispered the deva to the shepherd and squeezed his hand encouragingly.

And Siva did come. A radiant cloud began to quickly swirl in upon itself, spinning faster and faster, until the shape of the god began to take form. With a flash of light, and a sound like a thousand deeply toned drums resounding and drowning out all else, the great god Siva appeared. He was truly an awe-inspiring figure, and the shepherd remembered, ashamed, how he had let the king strike fear into his heart. For beside Siva, the king, a human being no different than the shepherd himself, seemed no longer frightening. As his awe and amazement at the swiftly approaching god grew, so did the shepherd's courage. The immense form of the god blocked out the light of the morning sun, yet Siva, like the feather and the devas, glowed with an inner intensity that lit up all that was around him. The feather continued to hover amongst them, as Siva looked down at the shepherd.

"Shepherd, I have watched you for a long time, and I have presented you with this test of your trust. Truly you are worthy to be a descendant of Vishnu, and indeed that is what you are. and by his name you are the rightful king of this land."

The shepherd stared in breathless excitement at the god, and then at the beautiful deva beside him.

"And the sweet deva who is now at your side," continued Siva, "if it be her will, is to become your queen and partner, and together you shall rule over this land."

At this, the deva glanced at the shepherd and gently squeezed his hand. Then with great reverence, she looked at the god Siva and said "Yes, it is my will."

"Then the great Vishnu decrees it, and I sanctify it," answered Siva. "And as for the usurper who now calls himself king," the god continued, "he is already destroyed. I have sent the monster, he who plucked for you the goose-feather, and he has killed the false king. The land is from this moment on rightfully yours to rule."

So it was that the shepherd and the deva were married, and became king and queen. To celebrate their liberation from the evil king and honour the new king and queen, the people of the land flew kites that looked like the magic goose-feather. And this they do to this very day.

A deva is a divine being in Hinduism and Buddhism. Devas, when appearing to mortals, never sweat not blink, and neither do their feet touch the ground. They cast no shadows and wear ornaments made from never fading-flowers.
Siva (pronounced shi'va) A Hindu god who is male, female and neuter. Siva is the god of growth, destruction and re-growth.
Vishnu is a major Hindu and Buddhist deity. Vishnu is believed to be the protector of the universe and the embodiment of goodness and mercy.

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