December ceremony is not only Christmas

Volunteer's Blog

Denpasar, Bali, December 2014 (Stefania Sechi)

In the 10th century, Erlangga was one the kings of Bali. His mother, Rangda, was condemned by her husband Udayana because of her practiced black magic.


When Udayana dies, Rangda unleashes her revenge against the son: she summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle, the leaks and the demons, to come after Erlangga. The battle started, but the power of Rangda is too strong for Erlangga and his soldiers. Thus Erlangga asks the help of Barong, king of the spirits and leader of the host of good, to fight together with the soldiers. Rangda using her black magic castes a spell that convinces all the soldiers to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned keris into their own stomachs and chests. But then Barong castes another spell to turn the soldier’s body resistant to the sharp keris, although Rangda’s spell was so strong that some weak soldier -despite the help pf Barong- was not able to resist. And so it was that in the end Rangda lost and ran away.

Barong is now one of the most famous traditional dance in Bali. You can find many different versions of the story, anyhow the myth represents the eternal fight between good and evil own of every human being; fight that does not have a real solution, since in Balinese tradition both good and evil are consider sacred and venerated in dedicated temples. Barong is a big animal, half dog half lion, very hairy and dressed with gold ornaments. His face is a red dragon mask, which is sacred and before brought it out the priest need to present offers to the God. He has two person inside that make him dance following the rhythm of the gamelan, the Balinese “orchestra” in which xylophones, copper drums and bamboo flutes play together in a blatant rambling irresistible harmony. During the important ceremonies like cremations or Galungan (the Balinese Christmas, su-pe-r nice) Barong dance is performed and often meets other kind of traditional dances, like the Baris (warriors) or Topeng, a kind of dance-drama where the actors wear character’s masks and the story mix mythology and local events and gossips to involve the public and make it laugh. If you are lucky like I was during the Kuningan celebration in Pura Sakenan temple (in Pulau Seragan, the turtle’s island) you can assist at the charming spectacle of the bright dresses, the studied movement of the hands and the neck, and the marionetting choreographies. Even the public, entirely dressed with holy white sarongs, was an astonishing show.1

If you want to have a little sip of the Balinese traditional dance, check the video here.

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