Asia is known for its culture. From food and exotic rituals to spirituality, natives from this part of the world have been showcasing their lifestyle and their history through various forms of art. Back home in India, the festive season is filled with all such sorts of activities and performances by local artists to celebrate their local culture. One such event is the dramatic folk re-enactment of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana. Staged during the annual autumn festival of Navratri, it is a display of the triumph of Good over Evil.
For those feeling the nostalgia of watching this theatrical performance every year in the jam-packed streets of India, get ready to experience this in a completely unique form in the beautiful country of Bali. An amazing way to get introduced to Balinese Hinduism, this captivating performance is seen across different parts of Bali through a fascinating dance form called Kecak. Before taking you through where you can witness this unique art form, let me tell you more about this cultural extravaganza.
What is a Kecak?
Kecak (pronounced Kechak) or Kecak Fire Dance is a mesmerising dance and art form developed in Bali in the 1930s. Based on the Hindu mythology of Ramayana, it deals with the episode of Lord Rama’s beautiful wife Sita’s abduction by Ravana and then her rescue. However, the portrayal in this performance is not just an ordinary one, making it a must-do on every Bali trip.
More than 100 performers wear chequered clothing and sit in concentric circles continuously chanting “chak” to set the stage for the battle of Ramayana. Similar to two native dance forms of the Balinese- Legong and Barong, the performance represents the dance form of Tari Kechak. Primarily performed as a trance dance, the word “chak” sounds in a rhythm to help people who are possessed to enter a trance. It was historically performed in a temple to keep the evil spirits away. But then in 1930, a German artist saw this dance at a temple and was so fascinated by it that he created a version of it for the public.
With a similar base to the traditional Balinese dance, the Kecak Fire Dance has the presence of a dancer in trance moving to the chants of the chak chorus. However, the dancers are not really entranced but are just trained in presenting the story of Ramayana.
The performance begins with the arrival of 100+performers on stage chanting in a chorus to announce the arrival of the four principal characters. Ram seeks the help of Monkey God, Hanuman when his wife Sita is abducted by Ravana and taken away to a faraway land. With a bitter battle between the monkey army and Ravana’s demon army, the performance ends with a man walking over red-hot coconut shells i.e. the fire. This dramatic dance performance is unique as dances usually require music and the Tari Kecak dance has no music. It is just a choir of vocalists who make the sound just like that of a monkey representing the monkey army of Hanuman.
Where can you watch this in Bali?
With so many shows going on every week, Ubud is the best place to witness this energetic performance in all its glory. Also, with so many other things to do in Ubud, you will never run out of things to do here while preparing yourself for the grand sunset performance.
Kecak dances are organised around the city centre of Ubud, though other parts of Bali host similar shows in their own version of it. Lasting about 90 minutes, the show starts at around 7-7:30 every day depending on where you watch it.
A popular place in Ubud to witness this is Pura Luhur Uluwatu or the Temple of Uluwatu which is located on the sea coast. You can watch the dance here against a backdrop of the changing colours of the sun and the sky as the day settles in. It gives such a mesmerising effect that Kecak is now almost synonymous with the temple.
However, Kecak is much more than that. It can be an exciting experience wherever you watch it. There are performances in parts of Ubud which are performed by an all-women cast and are known to be far more graceful than many of the male-only ones.
Whether you have seen a glimpse of it in India or completely skipped being a part of the religious fanfare, experiencing this exotic dance form is a must-do on your trip to Bali.
‘Curated by Neha Bhise’