DANCE AND RELIGION IN BALI
25 July 2012

Balinese dance is inseparable from religion. A small offering of food and flowers must precede even dances for tourists. Before performing, many dancers pray at their family shrines, appealing for holy “taksu” (inspiration) from the gods. In this rural tradition, the people say that peace and harmony depend on protection by the gods and ancestors.

Dance in this context may fulfill a number of specific functions:

  • as a channel for visiting gods or demonic gods, the dancers acting as a sort of living repository. These trance dances include the Sang Hyang Dedari, with little girls in trance, and the Sang Hyang Jaran, a fire dance.
  • as a welcome for visiting gods, such as the pendet, rejang and sutri dances, panjembrama dance.
  • as entertainment for visiting gods, such as the topeng and the wayang.

bali dancer

In some of these dances, the role of dancing is so important that it is actually the key to any meaning to be found in the ritual. In wayang performances, the puppeteer is often seen as the priest sanctifying the holy water. As well as their use in religious ceremonies, dance and drama also have a strong religious content. It is often said that drama is the preferred medium through which the Balinese cultural tradition is transmitted. The episodes performed are usually related to the rites taking place; during a wedding one performs a wedding story; at a ritual there is a visit to hell by the heroes. Clowns (penasar) comment in Balinese, peppering their jokes with religious and moral comments on stories whose narratives use Kawi (Old-Javanese).



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