Men and Women dance with elegant beauty and precision on small stages often open to the skies. Mortals through most of the day they become Gods and Goddesses once they enter the stage with their beautiful makeup and costumes. These are eternal stories and have been performed just so for centuries. Each step and move is unchanged. A performer has to become the dance itself in order to perform.
THE DANCE OF LIFE
Is the prose of the mind.
Is the poetry of the heart.
Is the song of the soul.
Is the dance of life.
Every person in Bali is familiar with all the ancient stories of the Hindu religion. The names of Krishna and Arjuna and all their renowned deeds are known by heart. The performance this night is of the Mahabrata. The Ancak Saji Ubud Palace court yard where it has been staged has been in use for more than 500 years.
Unless your heart
Is a dance of hope,
How can your life
Be a song of peace?
On another night I went to a Kecak dance, known in the west as the Monkey Dance. In this story Rama looses his wife Sita to an evil being named Rahwana. He has used enchantment to turn her. She believes her husband is dead and looses all hope
A Priest invokes a sacred blessing before each performance.
The rain is falling heavily when we arrive. The outdoor venue is closed so we move to a covered space nearby. There is some time before the performance and we are sitting in plastic chairs when Warsa approaches. He tells us that he is part of the 100 man Kecak chorus and has been doing this for 15 years. He is paid nothing for his work. Any money raised by the group helps support his temple. He is a photographer by trade and is happy to talk about cameras with my friends and I. He is happy to pose for a photo but I have to encourage him to smile. He tells me, "My teeth are not good."
There are no lights other than the burning candles on a stand in the middle of the room. The men chant and swing. It is hypnotic. I find myself being lost in their sound and movement.
Hanuman is the monkey God. His life is all about total surrender and service to Lord Rama.
Heaven-duty is self-imposed torture.
Earth-service is God-ordained rapture.
Duty enervates me.
Service immortalises me.
Rama also enters the battle with his dear brother Lakshmana.
The outcome is foregone. Goodness is victorious over evil, and yet we who are not on the battlefield watch in wonder and trepidation nonetheless.
Will Sita be rescued will evil be vanquished from the earth plane once and for all.
THE BATTLE OF LIFE
The body is scared to death
When it enters into the battlefield.
The vital often enjoys
The mind is often withdrawn
The human heart dies
Before the fight begins.
The divine heart surrenders
To the Will of the Pilot Supreme.
From the battlefield
At God's choice Hour.
Near the end of the performance and Sita has been rescued by Lord Rama a unique event takes place. A large pile of coconut husks are place in the middle of the floor and set on fire.
The chanting of the men's Kechak chorus grows stronger.
When the heat from the flames is most intense a man in trance emerges and dances around the hot coals to the rhythm of the chanting men.
He runs through them scattering them everywhere. The crowd cries out in amazement. Near me 3 Japanese girls in the front row screeched with a mixture of delight and fear. The pile is put back together again by men with long rakes. The man, dressed in his hobby horse costume runs through it again and again until the hot coals are no more. He lies upon the ground afterward where moments earlier he danced in ecstasy.
His feet are now black beyond recognition. It is said that his act of devotion brings good fortune to the entire community. He appears in a daze. People place small bills in front of him on the ground. His breath comes deep and slow.
My inner being
Shall dance and dance
If ever my outer life
Becomes a blade of humility-grass.