What the heck did we just witness??
Madā, the organizer of the Monkey Forest and rice terrace bike tour for Unsettled in Bali, invited anyone from our group who was interested to come to a rare, sacred, 5 hour village ceremony happening from 9pm-2am, called Calon Arang. While there are ceremonies happening just about every single day around Bali, this one is not attended by tourists, or frankly, white people.
Myself and 4 women from the group were interested, but we had to be provided the proper attire, as it is a strict dress code of a kabaya, sarong, and long white shirt. Also the men had to wear a formal headpiece, which symbolizes focus and able to receive from the gods.
The story described below is displaying the heavy dominance of a patriarchal society and its oppression of woman. Which is ironic, because the crowd was made up of roughly 80% men. Why? It's said that "women aren't capable of staying awake as late as men." And if you're menstruating, access to any ceremony or temple is strictly prohibited, as that means impure. And given it was a full moon, it may have been likely more women were on their period. Whatever the reason, it was swarming with boys and men.
The ceremony usually takes place yearly, on a full moon, and at a graveyard. Yes, we were at a graveyard, and we were the only 5 non Balinese there. Almost everybody was very warm, kind, and inviting. Definitely curious. Some would come up and just ask questions because they were fascinated with us being there.
A group of 9-year old boys, who were smoking cigarette after cigarette, were definitely making fun of me with each other, and as soon as myself and Madā stepped away from the women in our group, a few men got aggressive and started harassing them.
But overall it was very safe and inviting.
The show itself?... Whoa.
Peace in the village of Gara
We walked up to a large, intricately crafted, and very colorful stage that was full of symbolism. It set the scene for the story to take place in Gara, a very peaceful village in the Kingdom of Daha. In the village, people danced, celebrated, and ate elaborate feasts.
Barong, a large lion-like beast dances to the live Balinese orchestra
The Balinese dancers, known as Pragina, move with very dramatic body movements, particularly in the expression of their eyes, pursed mouth, and double-jointed fingers.
It's quite a treat for the boy and man dominated audience.
At one point, a boy maybe 10 years old, comes out dressed as and acting very convincingly like a little monkey. Like one of the many gray macaques in the region, and harasses the audience and beast Barong. At one point, Barong kills the monkey, and a few moments after lying dead, the little boy monkey gets a giant boner. There were a number of sexual themes throughout the ceremony that really got a rise out of the audience. 😏
A widow with very powerful black magic who often damages farmers' crops and causes diseases.
Ratna Manggali is Calon Arang's daughter. Although beautiful, she is unable to get a husband because people were afraid of her mother.
I say beautiful, because that's the story, but the actor playing Ratna was a man in drag, making all sorts of weird, wild, and expressive faces, screaming, and throwing temper tantrums.
Actually for three and a half of the five hour ceremony, it consisted primarily of these two characters yelling at each other in Bahasa, not English. So for almost the entire show, we had zero idea what was going on. Except the parts where Calon Arung would find men in the audience to give lap dances to, or have pulled up and made to dance freaky with her.
Mada was trying to get their attention to have me pulled up. I had no idea what I was signing up for, but I raised my hand and was ready to go. Oh how hilariously awkward it would have been with the language barrier, not knowing what's going on, and figuring it out on the spot.
Overall it was a loooong time to sit on the dirt and be bombarded with this shrill yelling, so we debated a few times if we should leave or not. But we stuck it out because we were promised something big for the ending...
At one point a man started dancing on stage, which felt like part of the show. Eventually he was ushered out. He then returned 3 more times, and it became clear he was crashing the play... but the audience loved it, and he was actually a really great dancer. At one point, he took off his head piece to dance, a big no-no, so the actor playing Ratna ran over to get one of the umbrellas to hover over his head until he put it back on.
Back to the story... due to the villagers avoiding her daughter Ratna, Calon Arang was angry at the people, so she kidnapped a young village girl to be sacrificed to the goddess Dewi Durga on kajen kliwon (the day of black magic). The very next day, a great flood engulfed the village and many people died. Disease also appeared, killing more people.
When King Airlangga heard of what was happening, he had his advisor, Empu Baradah, deal with it. Empu Baradah sent Empu Bahula, a disciple to marry Ratna Manggali. After the wedding, a huge feast lasted 7 full days before life could return to normal.
Calon Arang possessed a lontar, a book that contains magic incantations. One day, Ratna's husband Empu Bahula, found the book and turned it over to his master, Empu Baradah.
As soon as Calon Arang learned that her book had been stolen, she became angry and decided to fight Empu Baradah, but without the help of the goddess Dewi Durga, she was defeated.
At this point, Calon Arang walked up the long staircase to the left of the stage to ascend to the afterlife.
Since she was defeated, the village was safe from the threat of Calon Arang's black magic. The end.
Ok, here's where it gets a bit fuzzy, well, fuzzier.. all the stories I've read about it ends about here. However as soon as Calon Arung died, dozens of Balinese brought in this chair on their shoulders, where Rangda was presented to the stage.
This massive witch is Calon Arung in demon form. This is the patriarchal depiction of women they feel are too powerful. Hideous, deformed, thrashing. The character itself was actually played by a man. 😒
After the drama of Rangda, a massive swarm of boys and men rushed the crowd, swirling in circles, kicking up dust, pushing each other... it was a giant Balinese mosh pit! A couple of them carried a stretcher with a corpse on it.
Dozens of people filled the stage, standing around the corpse, making it almost impossible to see what was going on. I have no idea who the corpse was and what role it played.
I thought it was the energy boost we needed, but afterwards most of the group, unimpressed and mentally exhausted, wanted to head back.
The final scene, one of the characters, unsure who, committed suicide with a large knife.
Ok, that's the end for reals.. I went straight back to the villa and to bed. A night of crazy dreams!
Thank you for reading. :)
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