Oct 3, 2010

History of Bali's Calonarong Dance

A Barong (lion-spirit) appears during the calonarong dance in Bali, Indonesia.
jarodlkp on Flickr.com
Exactly when the calonarong dance was first performed in Bali is not recorded. However, the dance tells a familiar story - that of a battle between good and evil.
In the case of the calonarong, the story goes like this: the king exiles the evil witch-queen Rangda from the kingdom of Java because of her wicked ways. She calls down a plague, which kills half of the people in the kingdom.
The king summons Barong, a lion spirit, to help him defeat the witch. Barong leads an army of humans, plus the impish Monkey-god Hanuman, into battle against Rangda and her army of witches.
Rangda casts a spell on the human warriors, forcing them to turn their poisoned swords against themselves. Barong counters by making their bodies impervious to the blades.
In the end, of course, good triumphs over evil and Rangda is vanquished.

The calonarong dance is probably based on a highly mythologized account of real events. In the 11th century, the Javan queen Mahendradatta was accused of practicing witchcraft. Her husband, Dharmodayana, sent her into exile.
The exiled queen reportedly vowed revenge. Some years later, after Dharmodayana had died and their son Erlangga was king, a plague struck Java. People blamed the plague on the old exiled witch-queen. In fact, the name Rangda means "widow" in Balinese.

Ranga - the Evil Witch Queen

Ranga may be based on the 11th century Balinese queen Mahendradatta
Ranga, the evil witch of Balinese legend, who fights against the Barong in traditional masked dances.
Jeff Hunter / Getty Images
Although Ranga may be based on the historic queen Mahendradatta, she is also associated with some of the more fearsome goddess in the Hindu pantheon including Kali, the goddess of death and destruction.
Ranga sports the colors red, black and white, which are also Kali's colors. Like Kali as well, Ranga is widely feared but also revered. Her death-dealing power is a necessary component of the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Ranga the Nasty

A baby-eater if I've ever seen one - Rangda the Witch
Rangda, the snaggle-toothed witch of Balinese legend
Jeff Hunter / Getty Images
Though some people consider Ranga to have redeeming characteristics, she is a pretty nasty character.
For one thing, she has been known to eat babies. (That's not to mention killing off half of her own son's people in a plague.)
Her snaggle teeth, popping eyes and terrible reputation are likely very useful in making small Balinese children mind their elders.

Barong - the Benevolent Lion Spirit

No Balinese calonarong dance is complete without a barong of some sort.
 The kindly Barong or lion spirit who fights against the evil witch Rangda.
jarodlkp on Flickr.com
In the legend, the human king enlists the aid of Barong, the kindly King of the Spirits.
The most common depiction of Barong is a lion-spirit like this one. In the dance, it is played by two men - one in the front and one in the rear.

A Dragon Barong

The Godzilla-like King of Spirits in Bali.

A dragon barong, or guardian spirit, from Balinese legend.
abdes :: klickography on Flickr.com The lion barong is the most common, but he can also appear as a dragon or serpent, a wild boar, or a tiger. The particular barong invoked depends upon in which region of Bali the legend is being re-enacted.

Hanuman the Monkey God

Hanuman is one of the most popular Hindu deities.
Hanuman the Monkey God pesters the Barong during a Balinese dance
jarodlkp on Flickr.com
Of course, no Hindu myth is complete without Hanuman the mischievous Monkey God. In calonarong dances, he plays the annoying side-kick of the Barong. The Barong is trying to sleep, when he first appears, but Hanuman keeps bothering him.

The Human Warriors

Balinese dancers in traditional colors
Human warriors preparing for their role in the dance, Bali.
Jos Dielis on Flickr.com
The human warriors don't make such a fantastic sight in the dance, but they play a pivotal role in the story. They are the ones who have all the spells put upon them, and they also vanquish Rangda in the end.

Rangda Casts Her Spell


The girl or apsara behind Rangda looks properly horrified.
A dancer playing Rangda the witch casts a spell.
Jos Dielis on Flickr.com
The witch-queen Rangda casts a spell during the calonarong dance.

The Spell Takes Effect

Rangda was hoping to win without a real fight, using her magic.
The warrior's chest is supposed to be impervious to his blade due to the Barong's spell.
Alex Photojournals on Flickr.com
The king's human warriors are forced to turn their swords against themselves by Rangda's spell. However, the Barong counters the spell by making their flesh impervious to the swords.
In performance, dancers sometimes injure themselves performing this part of the legend. When that happens, it is said that the forces of good were not strong enough in that performance.

A Warrior Overcomes Rangda

How would Queen Mahendradatta feel about this depiction, I wonder?
Rangda gets her just deserts for sending plague down on her son's kingdom.
Metal Marna's Ego-terrorism on Flickr.com
Despite many casualties, the witch-queen Rangda is defeated in the end, thanks to the help of the Barong. Here, a human warrior is able to stab the evil witch and end her reign of terror.







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