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Bali Information: Balinese Culture

Balinese Dance and Religion

 

BALINESE DANCE AND RELIGION

 

Balinese dance is inseparable from religion. A small offering of food and flowers must precede even dances for tourists. Before performing, many dancers pray at their family shrines, appealing for holy "taksu" (inspiration) from the gods.
 
In this rural tradition, the people say that peace and harmony depend on protection by the gods and ancestors. Dance in this context may fulfil a number of specific functions:

  • as a channel for visiting gods or demonic gods, the dancers acting as a sort of living repository. These trance dances include the Sang Hyang Dedari, with little girls in trance, and the Sang Hyang Jaran, a fire dance.
  • as a welcome for visiting gods, such as the pendet, rejang and sutri dances
  • as entertainment for visiting gods, such as the topeng and the wayang.


In some of these dances, the role of dancing is so important that it is actually the key to any meaning to be found in the ritual. In wayang performances, the puppeteer is often seen as the "priest" sanctifying the holy water.
 
As well as their use in religious ceremonies, dance and drama also have a strong religious content. It is often said that drama is the preferred medium through which the Balinese cultural tradition is transmitted. The episodes performed are usually related to the rites taking place; during a wedding one performs a wedding story; at a death ritual there is a visit to "hell" by the heroes. Clowns (penasar) comment in Balinese, peppering their jokes with religious and moral comments on stories whose narratives use Kawi (Old-Javanese).

 

MOVEMENT IN BALINESE DANCE


The typical posture in Balinese dance has the legs half-bent, the torso shifted to one side with the elbow heightened and then lowered in a gesture that displays the suppleness of the hands and fingers. The torso is shifted in symmetry with the arms. If the arms are to the right, the shifting is to the left, and vice-versa.
 
Apart from their costumes, male and female roles can be identified mostly by the accentuation of these movements. The women's legs are bent and huddled together, the feet open, so as to reveal a sensual arching of the back. The men's legs are arched and their shoulders pulled up, with more marked gestures, giving the impression of power.
 
Dance movements follow on from each other in a continuum of gestures with no break and no jumping (except for a few demonic or animal characters).
 
Each basic posture (agem), such as the opening of the curtain or the holding of the cloth, evolves into another agem through a succession of secondary gestures or tandang. The progression from one series to the other, and the change from right to left and vice versa, is marked by a short jerky emphasis called the angsel. The expression is completed by mimicry of the face: the tangkep. Even the eyes dance, as can be seen in the baris and trunajaya dances.

 

THE DANCES OF BALI - Part 1

THE KECAK DANCE

"Cak-cak-cak." The obsessive sound of a choir, from beyond the dust of ages suddenly rises between, the lofty trees. Darkness looms over the stage.
 
Hundreds of bare-breasted men sit in a circle, around the flickering light of an oil lamp chandelier. "Cak-Cak". They start dancing to the rhythmic sound of their own voices, their hands raised to the sky and bodies shaking in unison. This is the unique Kecak, perhaps the most popular of all Balinese dances.
 
Visitors rarely leave the island of Bali without first seeing a kecak performance. Originally the kecak was just an element of the older Sang Hyang trance dance. It consisted of a male choir praying obsessively to the souls of their ancestors. At the initiative of painter Walter Spies, this religious choir was transformed into a dance by providing it with a narrative. The ballet is the Ramayana epic. The prince Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Laksmana are exiled in the middle of the forest. Rama goes hunting a.golden deer at the request of his wife, who saw the strange animal and has asked him to catch it. While he is away, she is kidnapped by Rahwana and taken to the latter's island kingdom of Alengka.
 
Rama allies himself with the monkeys and in particular with the white monkey Hanoman. They build a bridge and cross to the island. War ensues until finally Rama defeats Rahwana and is again united with his faithful wife.

 

THE DANCES OF BALI - Part 2

THE BARONG DANCE

The Barong is the magical protector of Balinese villages. As "lord of the forest" with fantastic fanged mask and long mane, he is the opponent of Rangda the witch, who rules over the spirits of darkness, in the never ending fight between good and evil. During the Galungan Kuningan festivals, the Barong (there are many types, including barong ket, barong macan, and barong bangkal) wanders from door to door (nglawang) cleansing the territory of evil influences.
 
The fight between Barong and Rangda is also the topic of traditional narratives, usually performed in the temple of the dead. The most famous is the story of Calonarang, a widow from Jirah who is furious because she cannot find a suitable husband for her daughter Ratna Manggali. All the eligible young men are scared of her black magic, so she gets revenge by wreaking havoc over the kingdom of Daha. The king, Erlangga, tries to punish her, but all his attempts fail. She kills all the soldiers he sends to destroy her. Then Rangda decides to destroy Daha. She summons all her disciples and in the still of night they go to the Setra Gendrainayu cemetery, to present offerings of dead flesh to Durga, the goddess of death. Durga agrees to the destruction, although she warns the witch not to enter the city of Daha.
 
But the witch does not heed Durga's advice and the kingdom is soon hit by grubug (a plague) and the villages quickly become cemeteries, people dying even before they can bury their dead. Corpses are scattered everywhere and the stench is unbearable.
 
The only person who can defeat the witch is Mpu Bharadah. At the king's request, Bharadah sends his disciple Bahula to steal Calonarang's magic weapon. Bahula pretends to ask for Ratna Manggali's hand in marriage, and while the witch is away, Bahula steals the magic weapon with the help of Ratna Manggali. Then he gives the stolen weapon to his teacher Bharadah. The weapon turns out to be a manuscript containing the key to ultimate release (moksa) which has been used upside-down by Calonarang.
 
Bharadah goes to Daha to challenge the witch. With the help of the Barong, she is defeated. Before being killed, she asks to be released from her curse and purified.

KRIS DANCE

In the Barong play, Bali's mythical guardian, Barong, battles Rangda, the demon - Queen. barong's supporters are a group of Balinese men with the natural ability to enter a trance state. They are armed with a kris ( traditional sword). Rangda insults Barong and taunts the men- enraged and in a trance they attack her! But her powers are so strong that they are knocked out. When they come to they are so distressed by their failure, that they try to impale themselves on their kris. But their trance state amazingly protects them from injury.
 

THE GAMBUH DANCE

The Gambuh is the oldest classical dance in Bali, probably introduced at the time of the Majapahit culture. At a hauntingly slow tempo, the gambuh dance drama tells episodes from the story of Panji's search for his beloved in the kingdoms of Eastern Java. Now retained in only a few villages (notably Batuan and Pedungan), the gambuh combines the best of both female and male Balinese dancing. An unusual feature is the use of long bamboo flutes instead of the complete set of gamelan and gongs.

 

THE DANCES OF BALI - Part 3

PENDET AND PANYEMBRAMA

These dances are performed welcome visiting gods, who are presented with offerings of flowers. Nowadays tourists are also showered with flowers.

THE KEBYAR DANCE

The renewal of the arts during the 30's saw a surge in dance creativity, producing dances that are still the most popular in Bali: short but spectacular non-narrative dances inspired by the dynamism of the gong kebyar, a gameIan orchestra originating from Northern Bali. The most famous are the kebyar duduk and kebyar trompong. The two dances were created by Mario, a Balinese dance genius from this century. They are displays of suppleness and virtuosity, particularly the kebyar trompong, with the dancer playing the trompong instrument while dancing.

 

THE JOGED DANCE

The Joged Bumbung is one of the few exclusively secular dances of Bali, in which the brightly-dressed dancer invites men from the crowd to dance with her in a pretence of seduction. The music is made with bumbung (baMboo) instruments. This dance is very popular with tourists.
 
The dance begins with a long opening sequence by the female dancer. Then, long shawl in her hand, she selects a man from the audience by either pointing with her fan or touching his waist. He (the pengibing) comes on stage to hoots from the audience, and is expected to be as adept at teasing as the women dancer. The better he is, the louder the cheers and roars from the crowd. He may try to pinch her, dance hip to hip with her, or even behave like an angry lover and try to hit her.

THE WAYANG (SHADOW PUPPET) SHOW

The wayang puppet show is perhaps the most famous show in Balinese theatre, albeit the most difficult to understand. Basically an epic narrative, it is the key to Bali's unique world of myths, symbols and religious beliefs.
 
The puppet master, or datang, tells his story by projecting the shadows of the puppets he manipulates behind a white screen and a large lamp. He plays several characters at once, shifting from Old-Javanese to High-Balinese, singing and hitting a box to mark the rhythm. A good dalang is a one-man-show, being in turns smart, funny and melancholic.
 
The datang borrows the frame of his narrative from the great epics of the Indo-Javanese tradition, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, although other stories may sometimes be used. He then creates his own episodes, usually concerning a hero's quest for a magical weapon, heavenly secret or partner. The hero, accompanied by buffoons, succeeds eventually after tortuous adventures in the wilderness and fights with evil giants. The two sets of puppets - the heroes on the right, villains on the left - symbolise the eternal struggle between good and evil. But for the audience, the datang's ability to poke fun at everyone through the mouths of the buffoons is no less important than the narrative.
 

THE DANCES OF BALI - Part 4

SANGHYANG DANCE

The word Sanghyang mean "deity" and per-formers of the sacred Sanghyang Dence are said to be possessed by specific deities who enable them to perform supernatural feats. Their role is an overtly exocistic one they assist in warding off pestilence and getting rid of black magic. Trance is induced through incense smoke and chanting by two groups off villager women who sing the praises of the gods and ask them to descend, and a chorus of men who imitate the gambelan using the word 'cak' and other sounds.

SANGHYANG DEDARI

In Sanghyang Dedari two pre-pubescent girls (chose through a "trance test") are gradually put into trance, dresses in costumes very similar to the legong (many scholars feel that the legong developed from this form). They are the carried on palanquins or shoulders around the village, stopping at magically charged spots, such as crossroads, bridges and in front of the homes of people who can Tran transform themselves into leyakOr witches.
 
After this, the Sanghyangs lead the villagers back to a dancing arena at the temple or bale banjar, where with eyes closed, they dance for up to four hours. Stories from the legong repertoire or dramatic forms based on the Calonarang and Cupak are reenacted. In some villages, the Sanghyang dedari execute the entire dance on the shoulders of men, performing astounding acrobatic feats. This par of the ritual is accompanied by a complete gambelan group, who have been thoroughly trained and rehearsed.

SANGHYANG JARAN

In Sanghyang Jaran, a small number of men are put into trance, but their transition is much more violent - they fall, convulsed, to the ground and rush to grab hobbyhorses. During the pre-trance chanting, coconut shells have been lit, leaving red-hot coals. The trancers are said to be attracted by all forms of fire and onlookers are required not to smoke. The entranced dancer leap into the coals, prancing on top of them, picking up the hot pieces and bathing themselves in fire. Only kecak chorus men accompany the Sanghyangs.
 
Both types of Sanghyang may be see four times a week in Bona, where it is claimed that the dancer are indeed possessed, though by lesser deities.

BARIS

A dance of war, the Baris is strongly masculine and yet also display a strong sensitivity in the myriad of moods and expressions displays a strong sensitivity in the myriad of moods and expressions displayed within one dance. The Baris Gede, a sacral dance performed usually dressed warriors with distinctive triangular white headdresses bearing weapons: spears, spiked shields or swords. They dance in line, posing aggressively before attacking each other in simulated battles.
 

BALI DANCES SCHEDULE


Barong Dance - Sidan, Gianyar, everyday 9.00pm
 
Barong & Kris Dance - Batubulan everyday 9.30am & 10.30am. Puri Saren, Ubud Fridays 6.30pm. Catur Eka Budi, Kesiman, Denpasar everyday 9.30am.
 
Calon Arang Dance - Mawang, Ubud, Thursday & Saturday 7.30pm.
 
Children's Barong Dance - Every Sunday 10.30am at Museum Puri Lukisan. Jl. Raya Ubud, Ubud - Bali.
 
Classical Mask & Legong Dance - Br. Kalah, Peliatan, Ubud every Tuesday 7.30pm.
 
Gabor Dance - Puri Saren, Ubud every Thursday 7.30pm.
 
Gambuh - Gambuh is a ceremonial dance usually performed on very special occassions connected with religious festivals or royal marriages. Regular performances of Gambuh are held on the 1st and 15th of everymonth at Wantilan of Pura Desa Batuan, Batuan - Gianyar at 7.00pm.
 
Kecak Dance - Padang Tegal, Ubud Sundays 7.00pm. Puri Agung, Peliatan Thursdays 7.30pm. Catur Eka Budi, everyday Ð 6.30pm. Werdi Budaya everyday 6.30pm.
 
Kecak & Fire Dance - Bona Village Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday 7.00pm. Batubulan Village everyday 6.30pm.
 
Legong Dance - Puri Saren, Ubud, Mon & Sat 7.30pm. Peliatan Village, Fridays 7.30pm. Pura Dalem, Ubud, Saturdays 7.30pm.
 
Legong & Barong Dance - Br. Tengah, Peliatan every Wednesday 7.30pm.
 
Mahabarata Dance - Teges Village, Ubud, Thursday 7.30pm.
 
Raja Pala Dance - Puri Saren, Ubud every Sunday 7.30pm.
 
Ramayana Ballet - Pura Dalem, Ubud, Mondays 8.00pm. Puri Saren, Ubud, Tuesdays 8.00pm.
 
Sang Hyang Jaran - Bona Village, Sun, Mon, Wed, 7.00pm. Batubulan, everyday 6.30pm.
 
Shadow Puppet Show (Wayang Kulit) - Oka Kartini's, Ubud Sunday & Wednesday 8.00pm.
 
Sunda Apasunda - Puri Saren, Ubud every Wednesday 7.30pm.
 
Topeng Dance - Br. Kalah, Peliatan, Tuesday 7.30pm.
 
Women's Gamelan with Children Dancers - Peliatan Village every Sunday 7.30pm.

 

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