If you’re roaming planet Earth in search of an otherworldly experience, there’s only one place where apart from breathtaking, paradise-like landscapes of lush greenery and the infinity of turquoise waters you’ll come across mystical leonine creatures, ape-like humanoids and witches powerful in black magic.
The legend goes that in order to punish his son, a Javanese king decided to send him into exile to the easternmost part of the island. He took a stick and drew a line on the ground, making a small part of the land drift off to the sea. And so Bali was created, as one of the 17.5 thousands of Indonesian islands. Quite possibly being also one of the most blissful spots on the face of our planet, it has become a paradise for purists, tourists, those longing for self-discovery, and surfers alike, taking each individual’s breath away and enchanting them forever the moment they first set foot on the Balinese soil.
The restlessness of the Balinese spirit finds its expression not only in the vivid colors of its flora and fauna which have their sources in the distant horizons of the island’s two volcanoes, but also in the exotically artistic talents of the native islanders, as well as newcomers who easily find their inspiration there, in places such as the celebrated Ubud.
One of the art forms most inherent to the Balinese culture, and representing the island’s environment, society and religion all at once are various dances, which through their dynamism and expressionism look very spontaneous, but in reality are meticulously choreographed with every move named after animals whose movements they resemble, like a crow or a tiger. The dancers put on ornate, eye-catching costumes transforming themselves into different mythological characters and creatures, and the scene into mystical, ancient lands. In some dances, like the sacred Sanghyang Dedari they even claim to be possessed and led by spirits, called hyang.
Barong is definitely the most spectacular of these dances, showing a battle between the titular lion-like creature and the demon queen Rangda, a clash between good and evil. If you look closely, Barong’s shape kind of looks like that of a Pekingese dog, although it’s adorned with much more black fur, gold and little mirrors. With two actors hidden inside its costume, Barong performs some crazily unpredictable jumps on the scene. Yet even more mind-blowing are the intricate finger movements of the beautiful girl dancers, and the only thought that crosses your mind when you see them, is, how is that humanly possible!
When in Bali, you can’t miss Kecak either, alternatively called the Ramayana Monkey Chant. It’s a very characteristic sight, as the performances take place at sunset in the majestic Uluwatu, in the light of a burning fire. But even more characteristic are the dancers’ percussive “cak” chants (pronounced as “chuck”) with their arms thrown up in the air. It really gets into your head the way any catchy song does, so be prepared to spend the next day going “cak, cak, cak.”
Yes, Bali is an idyll, where everything falls into place, an island which inspires its residents with its wonderful nature, and whose residents who definitely know how to celebrate its charms. Hands down, if I were ever to take off my brown, worn-out vagabond shoes and stick to one place to stay for good, I would choose Bali in a split second, be it in a villa in Nusa Dua or a tiny hut on a rice paddy.
Lazuli Lazuli is a Paris-based digital artist and a vagabond fascinated with the mythologies of tropical islands and dancing flamingos. Only in her early twenties, she has been to 35 different countries.