Last year, I was working in Ho Chi Minh city, for almost the first half of the year. I was lucky to be in the city during the Tết celebrations. I got to witness the love, togetherness and joy with which the country celebrates the festival. As the celebrations began, I made the most, by experiencing the decorations, the festivities, the food and the fashion. Then I was informed by my colleagues that eventually most Vietnamese people will spend the holidays with their families, so it is better if you travel back home or any other place during that time.
And thus during Tết holidays, I decided to travel to Bali. I planned quite at the last moment. But I am glad I planned to travel there and spend four good days on the island. I decided to start my travel from the eastern side of the island, followed by the west, after which I would fly out of the country.
As per plan, on the last day of my stay, I visited two famous temples of Bali, located on its west coast, the Uluwatu and the Tanah Lot temples.
Arriving at Uluwatu
One of my friends, who had recently traveled to the island, had told me that I must see the Kec(h)ak dance at Uluwatu temple, because it is a unique experience. The Kecak dance happens around sunset, so I planned my day accordingly. I hired a cab which would pick me up from my hotel, take me to Tanah Lot for sight seeing, then stop for lunch, head towards Uluwatu temple and ultimately drop me to the airport for my flight back to Ho Chi Minh city.
My trip was going as per plan and finally at around 4 pm, I arrived at the Uluwatu temple. I roamed around the premises, enjoying the picturesque landscapes and striking a pose wherever necessary :P. Finally when it was time, I went over to buy the tickets for the Kecak dance.
The Kecak dance
“Kechak”, with its origin in Bali, is a dance drama, comprising of 6-7 key performers. However, the highlight being, that these key performers are surrounded by a group of about 50-80 men, sitting in concentric circles and generating chorus sounds. This chorus, is used as the rhythm for the act/dance and apart from that, no other musical instrument is used.
The Balinese culture and mythology has its roots in the Hindu culture and mythology (originating in India). So the ‘Kecak’ dance drama, is based on the story of the great Indian mythological epic “Ramayana”.
The chorus sound created by the bare-chested men, wearing black and white checked clothes, around their waists, sound like “chak chak kecak kecak”. It is accompanied by movement of their hands and arms, as well as group movement around the stage. They aids the main performers in creating the imagery of the scene, based on the demand of the story. The intensity and frequency of their words, the tonality of the chant, is modulated continuously, to convey the mood and the emotion of the scene to the audience.
The dance drama depicts the story of Ramayana, starting from the episode where Ram and Sita (the pivotal characters of the epic, King of Ayodhya, India and his Queen) are already in exile, in the jungle (Dandakaranya). It all starts, when Sita spots the golden deer in the forest and asks her husband to catch it for her.
The performance quickly takes you through all the moods of the epic, from the peaceful stay in the forest, to the separation of Ram and Sita, the valour of Jatayu, the burning of Lanka by Hanuman, ending with the epic battle between Ram and Ravan (the antagonist, King of Lanka). One must watch out for the performer playing the role of Hanuman, he is central to the narration and gives a very special performance throughout.
Syncing with the climax of the story, where the two lead characters are entering into a battle, nature also reaches its climax. One of the best things about watching this dance at Uluwatu temple, is that the back drop of the performance is dynamic. The hues of the sky keep on changing, from yellowish white, to bright blue, to red yellow, to ultimately a deeper bluish gray. So, when the performance draws to a close, the sun also dips below the horizon.
The combination of a peculiar performing art, combined with the bounties of nature, makes the Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple, a unique and memorable experience indeed.
Getting a seat
As the performance starts at around 6 pm Bali time (everyday), one needs to arrive at least 2-3 hours before the show, so that one can buy the tickets at the earliest. Tourists queue up for the tickets pretty fast and occupy the best seats closest to the performers. The performance happens in an open air theatre, overlooking the sea, with a well style, layered semi-circular seating, converging into the stage. So if you want to sit super close to the act or pick a preferred seat or sit at all, then you need to get the tickets as early as possible and enter the theatre. There are no fixed seats, you can occupy seats on a first come first come basis.
Along with the tickets, they also provide a brief write-up of the story. It is available in different languages, so you can ask for it in a language that you are comfortable in.
Some pointers for the visit
- Carry a cap/hat/umbrella to save yourself from the intense tropical heat (much needed till the sun sets)
- There is quite a traffic jam, on the road outside of Uluwatu, after the show gets over, so make sure you leave quickly enough, in case you have any flights to catch post the performance
So until next time, keep travelling (once humankind is safe from corona) and keep smiling…. 🙂