Friday, May 25, 2012

Kecak Dance - Bali



‘We saw Ramayana dance in Bali’, my friend who was just back from the island had told me. This roused my curiosity and one of the very first enquiries I made during our vacation to Indonesia was about this dance form.

‘Oh! That is the Kecak(pronounce Kay-Chaak) dance. Its about Hanuman and Sita and Rama’ the receptionist at our hotel had explained.

Kecak dance is promoted widely as part of the tourism in Bali and there are daily performances in some places, predominantly temples. We stayed in a place called Ubud and we got to witness this beautiful art form during our first evening there.

At the entrance , they had stacked some print outs in different languages – English, French, German, Spanish etc. containing a detailed explanation of the structure of the day’s play – the order of the scenes, the different characters in them and a gist of the plot to be enacted.

There were no electrical lights at the venue and the entire place was lit up using oil lamps that did not overdo the illumination and gently sprayed a serene radiance all around.

There were around 50 men seated in a circle on the floor, clothed in a checked robe around their waist.

The main background for the dance is provided by the ‘Caka Caka Caka Caka Cak Cak Cak’ (Pronounced Chak) chanting of these men that takes the credit for the name ‘Kecak’.

I was flabbergasted at their energy levels and stamina. For nearly an hour they kept chanting non-stop with a relentless fervor . Their expressions depicted the depth of their involvement and their dedication to the art form; the synergy of their unified voices reverberated all around us.

Then came the lead artists and enacted one scene after another. These actors have a very distinct costume characterized by decorative head gear, heavy make up, lots of jewellery and unique shiny and colorful clothing. It reminded me of some of our Indian art forms like Kathakali and Yakshagana.

Thanks to the print out they provided it was very easy to follow the scenes, given the fact that we have a basic idea about the contents of the Ramayana. The title of the play was ‘Kumbakarna’s Death’.

Scene 1 – Rama and Lakshmana cross the ocean with the help of the Vanaras(monkeys)

Scene 2 – Ravana brings a fake head to Sita and says that he has slain Rama but he fails to convince her

Scene 3 – Ravana’s son uses his Nagastra (snake-weapon) on Rama and Lakshmana and makes them unconscious. Garuda the bird comes to the rescue

Scene 4 – Rama kills Kumbakarna


The chanting men also play a part in the enactment sometimes as the bridge, sometimes as the snake.

Once this was over, they placed a pile of coconut husks at the center and set it on fire. It was time for the fire dance. The dancer entrusted with the role came charging like a race horse and pranced on the burning husks , sparks flying all around him, his movements scattering the burning fragments all over the place. They gathered them again to a mount at the center and the whole act was repeated. It was mesmerizing.

This was the final act and they thanked us all for being a part of the evening.

As we walked out the performers also started leaving the venue, done with their evening engagement.They seemed to be from all walks of life and apparently the ‘Cak Cak Cak’ was a passionate interest for which they gathered everyday like a game of tennis is to many of us.

Providing a write up for reference before a show is something our dance forms can learn from them and incorporate. Though I could not understand a word of the lyric I thoroughly enjoyed what was being shown. Today if we go to a Bharathnatyam or Kuchipudi concert, except for those who have some basic knowledge about the art form its very difficult to comprehend and appreciate. A similar measure would play a big role in promoting the innumerable art forms we have in our country - a few which need a lot of support to prevent their extinction.

The following is a video I found on YouTube.

41 comments:

  1. Nice post Jaish..:-) Love to learn from other traditions too.Thanks for sharing..:-)

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  2. That was enlightening. I learnt something today:) Thank you for looking up a video and adding that to the post.
    Ubud-- wasn't that where Elizabeth Gilbert was put up during her stay in Bali?

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    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the comment. To be honest I had no idea about Elizabeth Gilbert till I saw your comment though I know the movie Eat Pray And Love. So thats something I learnt today, thanks to you :) . And as per Google search, yes she was put up at Ubud.

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  3. Very interesting information on dance.

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  4. Well said Jaish. This is something that can be easily incorporated and will do a lot of good in promoting the culture.

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    1. Hi

      Right! It would make all of us appreciate the art forms rather than a specific group

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  5. Beautifully narrated! Was like being there witnessing the performance! Lovely!

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    1. Hi

      Thank you so much. Your comment made my day

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  6. that's a major part of Ramayana which they enact with this additional chanting.

    i see you won quite a few awards on the right hand side. congratulations!!!

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  7. Hi Debajyoti

    Thanks a lot!! Waiting for the next humor post from you :D

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    1. Hi Rahul

      Thanks for reading and for the comment. :)

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  9. Wow. The Dance has been described so well. Looking forward to visiting Bali!

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    1. Thanks Ashwini....Do plan it when you can...You will definitely love it.:)

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  10. Wow! That is amazing. I had seen some pictures on one of your earlier Bali Trip post which depicted Hinduism. So I am pleasantly surprised by this Kecak dance. Thanks for sharing this with us. :)

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    1. Thanks for reading and for the comments Akshay :)

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  11. Hey this is a good post--I always love learning about traditional art forms..thanks for the info and the neat write-up!

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    1. Thanks a lot Bhavana. If you go to Bali, do remember to check it out. :)

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  12. That was quite some knowledge...presented wonderfully...made it almost'live'...thanks Jaish! I loved it:)

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    1. Thanks a lot Amitji :D . Glad that you found it enjoyable.

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  13. Beautiful narrative jaishree. I was also remembering my visit to a Japanese Kabuki play while reading your post.

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    1. Thanks for reading and for leaving behind your comments TF. :)

      I have not got a chance to see any Japanese art form yet. Will check it out when I get a chance.

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  14. This is so new to read about for me. I have heard of Thai dances, graceful and slow etc, but a Bali dance with Ramayana- not so far.

    Learnt something more about Bali today. And enjoyed it to. Thanks.

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    1. Hi pattu

      Thanks for the comment . Even I had no idea till I actually saw it . It's very unique and beautiful .

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  16. thanks for sharing about Kecak dance Jaish...it was realy nice read and unique post .... i enjoyed like i was also stepping up further to do cak cak

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  17. Ha ha

    Thanks for the comment Jasmeet.

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  18. Amazing, whenever I will go there, I will make sure I see the performance. Live performances that too without the fancy of gadgets is high on creativity and energy level. Thanks for sharing this :)

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    1. Thanks for reading Saru. When you visit Bali the guides will definitely recommend it and so chances are slim that you miss it. Its worth the time and money, No doubt!

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  19. yeah a good idea providing some info before the dance as you suggested and it will do good for our dances tooo for sure ..

    Lot of info there on the dance thanks for sharing

    Bikram's

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    1. There was one Bharathnatyam show I saw where the performer explained each act on a mike before doing it and i enjoyed it tremendously. It would definitely make a difference.

      Thanks for reading and for leaving your comments.

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  20. One of the things I would love to do before I die is to see the Balinese Ramayana. I have heard and read so much about it that nothing short of seeing it will satisfy me. And your post has stoked the desire afresh. :)

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  21. Hi Zephyr

    Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. Its definitely a very unique experience.

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  22. Very nice post about the dance. Makes me want to watch it the next time I visit Bali.

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  23. we saw this dance too in ubud (bali)!!

    http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

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