Visiting Bali? You can’t miss the traditional Bali dance performance which is an integral part of all the Bali tours offered by travel companies. Being an Indian visiting the Bali, we found the strong Indian connection with the life and culture of Balinese people.
Bali dances are merged with the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata which are modified in a small way according to their local history and culture. Both of these famous Sanskrit epics are brought to life through dance performances and storytelling. We found a strong link between the Balinese and Indian culture. Maybe that’s because of large Hindu population out of 4 million Bali people, unlike the rest of Indonesia which is mainly Muslim. You realize this pretty fast once you step foot on Bali and come to know that this beautiful little island is saturated with about 20,000 Hindu temples.
As we walked out of our Thai Airways plane at Denpasar International Airport and reached the customs, the strict looking middle-aged custom officer saw our Indian passports. The moment he realized that we are from India; a big smile came on his face and said, “Coming from India… Kuchi Kuchi Hota hai.” It took us some moments to understand what he was referring to. And then we realized, Shahrukh Khan – the famous bollywood actor is considered almost a living God here.
The moment you say, “I Love Shahrukh Khan!” or sing some lines from his many famous songs – many closed doors open to you. We quickly made our minds to introduce us everywhere as “We are from India – where Shahrukh Khan lives!”. Honestly speaking, we got very good bargains at many places, many photo opportunities at restricted places and even got invited to a local party to sing and dance on Shahrukh Khan’s songs. And not forget a big bottle of locally distilled popular alcohol called Arak.
As we started exploring Bali more, we realized that art is deeply rooted into the Balinese culture. That’s why three of the most popular dance traditions of Indonesia originated in Bali: Barong, Legong, and Kecak. Barong is the most popular and narrates the struggle between good and evil. Legong is intensely expressive and usually performed by young girls who start getting trained at the age of five. Kecak is typically performed only by men and resembles a hypnotic trance.
Legong of Mahabharata
This form of dance is based on Mahabharata with delicate finger movements, accurate feet movements and intense facial expressions to narrate the story. The conflict of the throne between Kauravs & Pandavs of Hastinapur is depicted wit full action and drama.
Kecak Fire and Trance Dance
Kecak dance is performed by 100 or more dancers wearing checkered cloths around their waists. The dancers chant together while swaying to the beat. This form of dance is more popular as in involves fire show too.
Barong and Kris Dance
The Barong Dance is another popular Indonesian cultural performance based on mythology. There are two main characters in this dance: Barong, a lion-like spirit that protects the land and its people, and Rangda, a demon queen. A kris is an asymmetrical dagger popular in Indonesian culture. This dance includes many men wielding the sharp-looking blade which lends itself to the title.
Unfortunately, the Barong and Kris Dance isn’t as common as the Legong and the Kecak but visitors can still find shows performed several times throughout the week.
The Ramayana Ballet is another rendition of the epics but uses a more contemporary dance form. The Ramayana Ballet is not accompanied by voices singing in unison or the stomping of feet like others, but by a 30-piece orchestra. The orchestra is a popular bronze ensemble whose most prominent piece is a giant gong. The music is powerful and filled with contradictory emotions.
Out of all, Barong is probably the most well known dance. The story of Barong dance goes that Rangda, the mother of Erlangga, the King of Bali in the tenth century, was condemned by Erlangga’s father because she practiced black magic. After she became a widow, she summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle, the leaks and the demons, to come after Erlangga. A fight occurred, but she and her black magic troops were too strong that Erlangga had to ask for the help of Barong. Barong came with Erlangga’s soldiers, and fight continued. Rangda casted a spell that made Erlangga soldiers all wanted to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned keris (daggers) into their own stomachs and chests. Barong casted a spell that turned their body resistant to the sharp keris. At the end, Barong won, and Rangda ran away.
The masks of Barong and Rangda are considered sacred items, and before they are brought out, a priest must be present to offer blessings by sprinkling them with holy water taken from Mount Agung, and offerrings must be presented.
Weighing in at 70 kilograms of fur, leather and gilt with a great carved wooden head, the barong costume calls for extreme stamina to bring it to its animate life.
But it’s sad to see the young generation of Bali people losing their interest in traditional Bali customs. In modern life only a few people are interested, those who are passionate about protecting and maintaining the Bali arts. When we talked with one of the dancers, she said “I am very afraid that Barong could be lost because kids no longer care for the arts, they have no desire to celebrate our culture.”
Bali Dance Barong is very much different from the frenetic leaps and tumbles of Chinese Barong dances. Here, under the tropical sun, movements are slow and deliberate, the Barong, “like a cat, looking here and there, up and down.”
The ticket cost to see any of these 1 hour dance performance is 100,000 rupiah/person.