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Hanoman Street, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali - Indonesia
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Group : Semara Kanti
Day : Tuesday / Time: 7:30pm / Venue : Padangtegal Kaja, Ubud
The Barong-Rangda confrontation seen throughout Bali is enacted either as a ritual or a public performance, both of which include dramatic, comic and trance aspects. The stories told during the theatrical piece vary by region and have changed over time, but consistently reflect a central theme of Balinese cosmology. Life is understood to exist on the cups between chaos and order: too much chaos and everything disintegrates; too much order leads to stagnation. A dynamic balance between the two is required.
The Barong is the magical protector of the Balinese villages. As "lord of the forest" with a big fanged mask and long mane, he is the opponent of Rangda the witch, who rules over the spirits of darkness, in the never ending fight between good and evil. During the Galungan Kuningan festivals, the Barong (there are many types, including barong ket, barong macan, and barong bangkal) wanders from door to door (nglawang) cleansing the territory of evil influences.
As an all-night ritual, the interaction between the Barong (the good) and Rangda (the evil) involves the entire community, with a long comic drama unfolding into an emotionally and spiritually charged trance ceremony. The dark, chaotic forces of death and black magic embodied by Rangda are subdued while the Barong enlivens and realigns the light, order-bringing forces as the guardian deity of the entire living village. Though Rangda is seen in her terrible aspect as the patroness of witchcraft, she is also understood to have a beautiful form as the goddess of the graveyard.
The dance between the forces embodied by the Barong and Rangda is eternal. Neither is ever vanquished and in all variations on the Barong-Rangda confrontation - this dance is the classic example of Balinese way of acting out mythology, resulting in myth and history being blended into one reality establishing equilibrium in the society.
The Semara Kanti Performance
The drama performed by the Semara Kanti troupe is drawn from an early story in the Mahabharata epic, though the opening scene of the Barong and the monkey server is only an introduction. The story begins once the Sisian dancers appear.
The Kurowa brothers, who are the antagonists in the Mahabharata, have petitioned the Goddess Durga to spread disease and destruction in Indra Prasta, the kingdom of the five heroic Pandawa brothers. The Sisian, as Durga's servants, fulfill the Kurowa's request.
Meanwhile, in the palace of the king of Indra Prasta, the Pandawas are meeting to decide how to respond to the disruption of the family temple ceremony by the Sisian dancers. On stage we only see Kunti who is the Mother of the Pandawa brothers, the youngest brother - Sahadewa, and the Prime Minister. Kunti has become possessed by one of Durga's demons and in a fit of rage demands that the Prime Minister sacrifice Sahadewa to Durga. Initially, the Prime Minister resists, but he too gets possessed and attacks Sahadewa.
Sahadewa faints while being beaten and is then tied up by the Prime Minister; but is visited by a High Priest while unconscious. The priest is an emanation of the God Shiva and been sent to empower Sahadewa so that Durga cannot kill him.
Durga arrives in the middle of the night, accompanied by her Buta Kala demons, intent on killing and eating Sahadewa. When Durga discovers that she cannot kill Sahadewa, she recognizes that her husband, the god Shiva, has blessed him. She then asks Sahadewa to free her from her earthly physical from so that she can be reunited with Shiva. Before dying, Durga decrees that her blood may never be used in offerings devoted to the gods in Bali.
After killing Durga, on his way back to the palace, Sahadewa meets Durga's servant Kalika on the road. Kalika also requests a purifying death as a way of entering heaven, but Sahadewa refuses, knowing that Kalika's responsibility is as the guardian of the graveyard and the king of the Buta Kala Demons.
Enraged, Kalika challenges Sahadewa to battle, but is not strong enough to win and therefore turns to flee. He turns himself into a pig and then a Garuda bird to escape, but Sahadewa still pursues him. Finally, he transforms himself into Rangda, who is an emanation of Durga. When Sahadewa become the Barong, an emanation of Shiva, the forces of chaos and order are rebalanced and the story concludes.
The closing event of the drama is the emotionally charged Kris trance, during which the Barong and Rangda, as representatives of Shiva and his consort Durga, reestablish equilibrium. The cosmic forces mythologized in the theatrical story are here seen to be at work in the everyday lives of all human beings. The participant pay serious attention to the cosmic forces they are invoking and always ask for permission and blessing in the temple before entering the stage.
Carefully observed, the Barong-Rangda confrontation and the Kris dance offer profound insight into the way the Balinese understand the universe and their place within it. The performance expresses a living oral tradition that no one member of the troupe could recite alone, but which finds full expression as a communal effort. The comic and ornamental aspect of the drama carry the story as strongly as the parts played by the central actors, and the man setting up the chairs feels as fully involved as the actress playing Kunti. As with everything in Bali the performance must be appreciated as a whole to be understood at all.