Bali’s unique culture

Bali’s unique culture

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Traditional Balinese dance is a cultural specialty of Bali island that is passed on from generation to generation. Every dance tells a story that has a spiritual and religious context within the local culture. Colorful costumes, expressive moves, exotic musical and voice performance make Balinese dance a thrill for tourists. We watched Legong, Barong, and Kecak dances in Ubud. Watching a Balinese dance show is a treat not to be missed on your Bali holiday – especially when you travel with kids. Ours liked it very much.

Legong dance, together with the accompanying gamelan musical performance, has been a treasure of Indonesian culture for many centuries. The dance is performed by young female dancers aged 15 or younger. Some of the Legong dances are based on the Sanskrit epics of India, while others are dedicated to the myths and legends of Bali. We watched a Legong Keraton. The dance is performed by three female dancers: Condong, a court attendant, and two identically dressed Legong, who represent royal characters. Prior to the performance we were given a program explaining the story behind the dance. Legend tells of the love of a king for the princess Rangkesari, whom he found lost in the woods and cruelly imprisoned in his palace. The princess’s brother sends an army against the king. On the way to the battle, the king meets a black crow, which is an omen of sudden death; however, the king ignores the prediction of the magic bird and drives it away. He enters into an unequal battle and dies. The battle itself wasn’t part of a dance.

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The Barong dance, is a performance that usually lasts for hours, but for tourists only a small part of the original dance is shown. The selected part may vary depending on the place. The Barong character – is a magical lion-like creature that is performed by two people in the same suit. Barong is often accompanied by dancers who represent monkeys. We were shown a legend taken from the Hindu epic Mahabharata about two brother-giants, kings Sunda and Upasunda. Giants possessed magical powers: no weapon could harm them. So the brothers decide to conquer the place where the gods and goddesses live. The gods decide to send to earth a beautiful goddess named Niatama whom the brothers would fall in love with, and they do. Now madly in love with Niatama, the brothers start fighting with each other, but since their magical abilities are equal, the fight ends in a draw when they have no power left to continue. We didn’t get the whole Barong-creature thing and why he was there, but it was definitely entertaining to watch.

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The Kecak dance is an ancient Balinese trance dance with choral music. The music is generated by the voices of a hundred male singers chanting “cak-cak-cak”. It is performed after sunset in a temple courtyard by male performers sitting in a circles around the biggest candelabrum we’ve ever seen. The dance story itself unfolds within the inner circle, and it is a love story based on the Ramayana epic. In the forest, Sita sees a golden dancing deer and asks her husband prince Rama to catch it. Rama leaves to catch the deer, leaving Sita in the care of his brother Lakshmana. Hearing a cry for help from the forest, Sita becomes worried about Rama and sends Lakshmana to bring her husband back home. Sita is left alone inside the protection of the magical circle. Rahwana, the daemon king, lures beautiful Sita out of the circle and kidnaps her. Rama goes in search of his wife with the help of the monkey king Sugriwa, who helps him find the castle where Sita is imprisoned. Rama comes to the castle with the monkey’s army and attacks Rahwana, defeats the daemon king, and reunites with Sita. Happy ending! :) It was the best dance we saw in Bali.

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After we saw the Kecak, Barong, and Legong dances, we were hungry for more cultural experience, so we went to see the Wayang Kulit – the Balinese shadow theater performance. There are two places in Ubud where the Wayang Kulit is performed for tourists. We watched it in the Kerta Accommodation near the Monkey Forest. The performance room is very small and has only about 20 chairs, so it is advised to come early. Shadows are projected with an oil lamp on a white linen screen. A puppet master manipulates carved leather figures between the screen and the lamp to bring the shadows to life. The shadow play is based on the Ramayana story picturing a battle between evil and good. The puppet master made plenty of jokes in English and we had a great time.

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The Bali Arts Festival is an annual cultural event with various daily performances and handicraft exhibitions. It traditionally starts on the second Saturday of June with an opening parade in Denpasar.

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Besides the cultural performers and dancers in colorful traditional Balinese costumes, the parade area is lined with food stalls, fashion displays and handicrafts. The festival is very authentic and greatly enjoyed by the locals. Indeed, there were very few tourists at the opening ceremony.

This year the Bali Arts Festival will return for the 38th time from June 11 to July 9, 2016 with the main theme being “Karang Awak: Loving Homeland”.

Visited June 2010

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