In December I made a short trip to Bali, Indonesia. I found everything about Bali beautiful from the abundance of bedogol statues and monuments, the reverence everyone seemed to have for deities in the temples, the little canangsari offerings on every corner, the bamboo poles and coconut leaf ornaments (penjor) especially with the Galungan festival just round the corner, and, of course, the bountiful massage parlours, bars and crowded beaches.
While I was enamoured by everything (and almost everyone I met), I had two “firsts” in Bali – one was going on a giant swing that catapulted me above the trees at Uma Pakel Agro Tourism near the Tegalalang Rice Terraces of Ubud. The other, and one of my favourite experiences, was watching the Sekaa Tari Kecak or “Kecak Ramayana and Fire Dance”.
I have heard and read about the Kecak dance many times, but this was the first real-life experience I had, at the serene Pura Luhur Uluwatu, or Uluwatu Temple, in Pecatu-Kuta. The Uluwatu Temple is a Balinese Hindu sea temple located on the shores of the Indian ocean. The temple is one of the important spiritual pillars in Bali (a must visit) and is perched on top of a steep cliff approximately 70m above sea level. It is one of the nine directional temples of Bali meant to protect the island from evil spirits.
The view here is magnificent, and you’ll find yourself among throngs of tourists – all modestly dressed in purple sarongs and orange ties which they received upon purchasing tickets – all in search for the best spot for a selfie or that money shot of the blue ocean meeting the sacred cliff temple. The grounds house shrines and is inhabited by monkeys, who are infamous for snatching visitors’ belongings.
The evening I visited, however, I somehow didn’t see any monkeys. I was a little disappointed because I had come prepared not to be outsmarted!
Instead I found myself falling into step with hundreds of people of all nationalities all slowly making their way to the ampitheatre set against a majestic sunset. The open-air arena was packed – tickets for the show are Rp100,000 (RM30 for those aged 10 and above) and Rp50000 (RM15 for children) – and they even had to bring in extra chairs, and tourists were happily seated on the floor as well.
The kecak is a Balinese-Hindu dance drama, based on a tale from the Ramayana – the one I saw had all the usual players Rama, Sita, Hanuman, Ravana, Garuda, Laksmana, Trijata, Sugriwa in a five-act play.
Ironically it was popularised in the 1930s by a Russian-born German man, Walter Spies, who was a primitivist painter, composer, musicologist and curator, who in 1923 moved to Jawa.
Spies became deeply interested in the ritual while living in Bali, and adapted it into as a performance for Western audiences.
The rhythmic chanting is performed by a circle of bare-chested men, all wearing checked cloth around their waists, making the sound “chak-chak-chak” while swaying and dancing in a trance-like state.
The show I witnessed was totally beguiling, especially with the sun setting into the Indian Ocean – there was dance, there was drama and comedy (Hanuman had everyone is stitches and stole the show), there was costume and culture, there was fire and drums, but most of all there was a lot of heart, and everyone left as if there now was a bond between us for having been there that evening.
Travel tip: Make sure you book your transport for the trip back to your hotel because e-hailing services are unavailable here.