Bali is one unique island, not only on a world scale but even in its own country. With close-to 90% of Indonesians practising Islam, the inhabitants of Bali almost exclusively recognise Hinduism as their religion of choice. Far from its ancient roots in India, Hinduism in Bali is a completely different paradigm. The Uluwatu Temple and Kecak Dance Show are an incredible example of the overlap.
Find a seat…quick!
It was one of those days. You could look far across the waters, until your eyes met the horizon; and as if the Gods had got out their protractors, the the horizon was a near perfect 180 degrees. In the foreground, a line of large vessels and sail boats shared open waters, as they circumvented through the Indonesian archipelago. Closer to 5:30pm, the sun had well began its descent and with it, the Bali skies moved between shades of aqua, tangerine and magenta, finally resting on a light orange. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
The rustic amphitheatre sat about 100-150 folks. Stragglers were required to stand or be seated on the floor in-front of the first row of seats. If there was ever a time to watch a traditional dance piece, in an open-air theatre, next to the ocean, accompanied by an idyllic sunset…today was the day. And didn’t everyone know it! Within 15 minutes of arriving, seated spaces were a rare commodity and like an overflowing bucket, the aisles were packed with eager punters trying to secure some sort of vantage point. Admin personnel overlooking the show did a good job of allocating seats and making space. After some push, shove and squeeze, I found a seat in the 2nd tier, with a glorious view of the sun setting to my left and an unobstructed view of the show in front.
What is the Kecak Dance about?
The Kecak dance is a visually stunning depiction of the ancient Hindu poem ‘Ramayana’. What is the Ramayana? Here’s a (very) refined version:
The narrative details the plight of the benevolent Prince Ram, and his brother, Laxman. The two brothers are banished to the forest for 14 years by their father, King Dasharatha. During his exile, Ram falls in love with the beautiful Sita. Alas, he is not the only one to have eyes on his new love. Cruel King Ravan lurks close by, eventually capturing and kidnapping Sita to take her back to his fortress in Lanka. With the help of the monkey King, Sugriva and the eternally loyal Hanuman; Ram and Laxman reclaim Sita by killing Ravan.
The Kecak Dance
The commencement of the program is marked by the head priest of the temple lighting a series of lamps and offering a prayer to the Gods. The dancers appear in black sarongs with chequered red and black belt-like cloths. What makes the dance truly fascinating is the absence of any external music, rather through pitch, vibrato, and synchronisation the dancers make a ‘ke-cak’ like sound, creating mood and context.
The amphitheatre can take no more people, the dancers are restricted to a 1-metre radius before they begin to tread on some foreign toes. The characters begin to emerge and the play takes its course. Beat, colour, dance, intensity, breeze and atmosphere make for a truly remarkable sensory experience. Ram and Laxman are played by two women (image above) in traditional Indonesian warrior wear, step for step, dance for dance they present a Ramlila with precision and grace. The sun has now set. A few overhanging poles bring light to the centre of the amphitheatre. The show has been enthralling so far. The ferocity of Ravan is only cooled by the calming breeze of the Indian ocean. He plays with the crowd, making circles around the centre, beating his chest, looking down on those seated at the front. It’s a captivating performance, until the main-event…
The Best Kecak Dance in Bali
With Ravan’s evil presence felt by everyone in Uluwatu, there was only one (monkey)man that could revive peace and help Ram reclaim Sita. Enter Hanuman. Like a wave crashing into the rocks below, Hanuman swings himself into the arena from above, jumping from one post to the other, through the aisles, from the crowds. Travellers to the left and right of me are stunned. Jaws touching the floor. Minds exploding. Camera flashes going berserk.
The dance continues, Hanuman is captured by Ravans goons. Centre stage is cleared, silence in the air, the sounds of only waves crashing into the rocks below. Hanuman is tied up and a circle of fire is made around him. The fire is raging! This is not a drill folks. The cool breeze is no more and this once humble amphitheatre is now a cauldron of activity. But if you know the Ramayana, or any Hindu Epic for that matter, the ultimate message is always, good over evil. Hanuman channels his superhuman strength and flashes his arms open as he emerges from despair. The monkey God kicks away the burning furnace and goes on what can only be described as a (Kecak) rampage; beating the goons and restoring peace once again.
The character is now pointing at sections of the audience, encouraging them to enter the stage. A select few cautiously make their way to the middle, uncertain about what lies ahead after witnessing probably the most energetic stage-production of their lives. But it’s all fun and games as the remaining characters return to the stage. Another brief dance with members of the public, and ultimately a graceful bow. All in attendance stand and clap for what has been an uniquely immersive performance.
Entry price for the Uluwatu Kecak Dance
Temple entry cost:
Uluwatu Temple – 30,000 IDRKecak Dance – 100,000 IDR
Time: Shows begin at 6:00pm nightly and conclude at 7:00pm.
- Get to the amphitheatre (not the temple) at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start time to avoid standing or no entry
- Dress appropriately. It is a holy site to the Balinese
- Bring fluids. It can get hot during the afternoon and prices of drinks and food are exorbitantly high
- There can be a rush to get out, causing lots of traffic. Make sure your driver is aware of optimal parking spaces