Barong Dance in Bali24 November 2013
Gilded and groomed, worshipped and revered, the sacred Balinese barong may appear well-kept. But truth be told, this wild and wily icon may never be properly house-trained.
The barong that bushy-tailed, bulging-eyed beast is one of Bali’s greatest cultural hits. As a jet-set visitor to the “island of the God”, you know to creature as the winsome hero of the barong dance or as the confounded cause of some interminable traffic snarl. Indeed, you’d be most carefully cloistered in nightclubs, surf breaks, spas or resort were you not at least once overrun by a boisterous barong procession. Lay aside, for a moment, all plans of beach or bar, and simply succumb to his splendor.
Gong! Gong! Gong! You hear it long before you see it the throng of barong devotees is headed up by a traveling gamelan orchestra, a crew who thinks nothing of toting half a ton of bronze from one banjar to the next. The scintillating, hypnotic tones build on the approach, captivating all onlookers with a lively solo progression drums clap, cymbals crash, massive gongs mark the downbeats. Bobbing along with the band are brightly colored umbul-umbul, long bamboo-pole flags sported by boys who can just barely manage them. And behind those, a canopy of satiny umbrellas shades the focus of the mayhem the mythical, mystical barong.
The barong mask perhaps a fanciful take on the lion form features giant, all-seeing eyes, fearsome teeth, wagging tongue, and clapping jaw. The beast is crowned in gold filigree and cloaked in a flowing mane of real hair and tinkling bells. More gold and mirrors adorn his shoulders and rump, each supported by a pair of bare shins and the latest in faux-teva fashion. Every so often, a heated human bearer is relieved of his task as another disappears into the shag. And so goes noble barong, loping along with all the aplomb of the classic clown horse.
As the last of the followers trail off-men young and old, kebaya-clad women bearing offerings and babes, kids awestruck, exhausted and up to no good a tide of trucks and motorbikes pulls in close behind. Back to Bali, business as usual. All of which leaves you wondering: “What on earth was that?”
The barong: A Crash Course
The Many Faces of Barong
Each barong has its own family tree, its own endearing foibles. There are young, playful barongs that bound about with abandon, and old, weary barongs that trundle along in their own sweet time. All Barongs are wise and magical, but none of them are perfect. Barongs can be rash and rambunctious and a few are known for the old tantrum. It may be these very imperfections-these nearly human frailties-that make barong so beloved.
Indeed, barongs are bona fide crowd-pleasers. Kids love them as much as Teletubbies or Power Rangers and will promptly throw a fit if parents don’t pact up in pursuit of every passing procession. For grown-ups, barongs are not only holy beings-they may be the most tangible embodiment of niskala, the unseen essence that in today’s world is even better obscured by motorbikes and mobile phones. Surely people put as much love and devotion into their barongs as their barongs put into them.
On special occasions, for temple ceremonies or holidays (especially the ten days on the Balinese calendar between Galungan and Kuningan) sacred barongs are let out for a romp. The Barong’s temple den is opened and aromatic woods are burned before the beast. The smoke, it is said, guides spirits back into the body of barong. As the barong wakes up, he or she presented with water for bathing, and coffee, before being anointed with incense and frangipani blossoms. If there is a long journey ahead, the barong will be fed his or her favorite food-fried chicken is popular fare. Villagers then file before the barong, make offerings and kneel in prayer.
Before long the barong is moved by the attention and by the stirring tones of gamelan. Suddenly he’s ambling out the door, supported by two villagers who have ducked beneath his mane. The villagers march blindly-or are blindly marched?-out temple gate , down the temple stairs, into the open street and off to who-know-where.
Good and Evil: A Delicate Balance
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