The tradition of Bali is so colorful, radiating with life from every corner of the island being that the beach on the coast or the lush greenery inland. It is something you will witness in everyday life, it reflects in daily offerings, traditional dances, crafts etc.
Every morning you will come across small packed offerings on the beach for instance, carefully placed down on the sand. Those are the so-called canang sari dedicated to the supreme Hindu god. The small baskets are crafted from palm leaves and typically filled with red, white, blue and yellow flowers, along with aromatic incense when put outside homes and temples. And each component of the offering has a certain meaning. There are tours in Bali that will take you through this in details if you are interested. You will learn not only about the local rituals, but participate in a short prayer, get a blessing or a consultation with a priest.
As for me, I was eager to know more about the culture. I was suggested to go and see the traditional dance in Uluwatu Temple. Walking towards the temple gives you an idea that you are going to witness something spectacular. The temple itself is the famous landmark. Situated in the south of the island (25 kilometers south of Kuta), on the steep cliff about 70 meters above the sea, the Uluwatu Temple or the Pura Luhur Uluwatu is considered to be one of the key temples and Balinese spiritual pillars. (See the previous posts for more about the Mother Temple, and Tanah Lot and Ulun Danu Beratan temples.)
Monkeys on the wall
Ulu means the top, watu – a stone or a rock, hence the name for the temple “on the top of the rock”. It overlooks the Indian Ocean and the archaeological remains show that the temple dates back to the 10th century. When coming towards the temple, you will see hundreds of monkeys going in and out of the small forest. They are believed to guard the temple from bad influences and visitors often stop to feed them. You can buy fruit at the entrance of the pathway. Monkeys here are known for taking things from visitors. They will take your sunglasses, pull your necklace or your hat down. So, it would be wiser to give them something to eat, right!
That walk along the fortified wall on the cliff side was one of the best sites I have seen on the island. I was walking down the pathway, glancing to the Ocean on the right, giving fruit to small monkeys sitting on the wall, while the temple was peaking in front of me, on the steep cliff I was approaching. It takes about an hour to get from one gate to the other.
The temple is dedicated to three divine powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva who, according to belief, became one here. So, it celebrates the deity of all elements of life in the universe, but it is also believed to protect Bali from evil sea spirits. You should wear a sarong and a sash before entering the pathway. (We talked about it in earlier posts.) Just follow the track and you will get to the temple and its stage for the traditional Kecak dance. It is performed everyday with the sunset in the background. Such a surreal experience for a European visitor, in such a surreal landscape!
The Kecak Dance is a form of Balinese music drama based on the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic illustrating the perpetual struggle between good and evil. It is performed mostly by a mail choir, waving their arms and chanting “chak”. It’s done in a hypnotic beat to scare away an evil spirit. It depicts one of the Ramayana episodes.
There is no public transport to the Uluwatu Temple. It is most convenient to hire a driver or a guide in order to get here in time for the performance.
There is one more dance I went to see. It was while visiting the town of Ubud, north of the Nusa Dua, in the Batubulan village. This was the Barong Dance, a piece of Balinese mythology with ornate costumes, traditional moves and unique musical instruments. This dance depicts conflict between the good Barong, dressed in a fanciful lion-like costume, and the evil Rangda.
Many Balinese villages hold dance and music events for temple ceremonies. Some welcome tourists providing they discreetly observe dressed properly. You may also come across many one-hour dance and music performances that take place in hotels and other settings, that are especially geared for tourists. Even though they are not that authentic, you will still be able to get a glimpse of the Balinese tradition.
I was also mesmerized by the haunting percussion sounds of a gamelan traditional music and orchestra. The musicians play an assortment of instruments including native metal gongs, drums, chimes, cymbals and xylophones.
And one more thing! They say that when you put the Barong mask on your door, it will prevent evil spirits to come into your home. Oh, I just had to buy me one!
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