Couple of weeks ago a friend of mine approached me and asked whether I have been in the Balinese theater before? I gave him that surprised look and said something like “come on they don’t have any theaters here”. Then a thought came to mind remembering the Balinese dance shows specifically put on for tourist. I gave my friend another look and asked, “you don’t mean those Balinese dance shows”? His reply was “Yes and No” as he began to explain.
It turned out that Balinese Theater and Balinese dance is not something that was created specifically for tourists. It has existed in Bali for centuries before it was first introduced to tourist visiting the island. What is even more interesting, more unusual for us Westerners, is that Balinese theater has a completely different meaning than what we know.
In Bali, the local traditional theater is not just for entertainment purposes, but also plays a religious part in Hindu ceremonies. Every big ceremony would be conducted in a Balinese theater performed by actors, dancers and singers. The show is not meant to be addressed for spectators. It’s for the entertainment of the Gods and Spirits.
For the participants who are part of the show understand and believe that the crowed gather to observe does not matter to them. The show is for the higher beings and deity which live on the island. Balinese believe that these invisible spirits participate in the performance by possessing the actors during this ritualistic performance.
When tourists started becoming more common to the island. Their curiosity drove them to want to observe these rituals, causing performances to be conducted in large theatrical settings. The number of spectators grew through the years and these theaters are now common in dense tourist destinations.The performance evolved designed specifically to cater a foreign audience. Things like ‘Kecak’ dance, or ‘Barong’ show are common daily performances. There are still other shows only performed at religious ceremonies and foreigners are not always allowed to see.
My curiosity only grew more as I learned more about this part of the local culture. This is how I came to visiting the Balinese theater Beji Budaya. The to men who opened this theater (Balinese guy and an expat) are trying to show and explain the more religious culture of Bali to Westerners. They don’t show the ‘Kecak’ dance, but instead they are trying to show something you couldn’t see in other performances.
In Beji Budaya, the Balinese actors are dressed in traditional Hindu costumes and the performance explains the story of an old Balinese legend. The legend is about a small village called Seraya. The story starts off explaining how poor the village was and what had caused it to be so poor. They were so poor that they could not afford to pay the King’s taxes which made him very angry. The King sent his men to Seraya to see why they were so poor, only to find out from the village leader of their great misfortune. The village leader explains about the absence of rain and a drought that has long been hindering their ability to grow any crops. The merciful King felt remorse for the village and immediately ordered a special ceremony to ask the Gods for rain. A special person “Pawang Hujan” (Shaman of the rain) was called to perform the rain ceremony also called “Gebug Ende”. This is a highly spiritual ritual which two people are put into a state of trance causing them to fight one another becoming oblivious to physical pain. These fighters have to fight till blood has spilled in belief that more blood, more rain.
Based on the legend, the ritual worked and the rains came to Seraya. People could grow crops and harvest once again. They were so happy that they danced and sang songs to thank the gods known as “Joged Genjek'”dance, which is now commonly performed during wedding ceremonies.
If you are keen to see this part of the Balinese culture, then come to Beji Budaya. They have performances daily starting in the morning, through the evening. You can check the schedule on their web site at (bejibudaya.com).
Beji Budaya is located in Batu Bulan village, just 20 minutes from Ubud and 60 minutes from Kuta. The theater itself is a huge Balinese style Bale in a beautiful area surrounded by rice fields and rain forest.