Monsters and spirits from the Balinese culture


May 2019


Modern Balinese culture is a mix of roots of different nationalities such as Hindus, Chinese, Arabs and others who came to Bali from the neighboring islands of Java. 

The origins of Barong & Rangda, both sacred characters from Balinese mythology, is dated from ancient animism era. 

Two mythical beings are ever-present in Bali. They can be seen in travel advertisements and postcards, and their colourful masks are sold everywhere as souvenirs. They are Barong, resembling a lion with its long mane, and the witch Rangda with matted hair and large tusks.

According to folklore, Barong is a fantastic creature in the form of a lion. Balinese believe that  a person can be very bad and very good at the same time, both of these opposite qualities are presented in him - good and evil, and evil is often so strong that it completely suppresses good. There is no such force of good that would triumph over evil; therefore, the symbol of good is always enclosed in a non-human being.

The Barong is Bali’s own mythical creature, a symbol of righteousness and justice.There are five Barongs in Bali, each of which defends his part of the island. They look as a wild boar, a tiger, a snake, a dragon and a lion.

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Rangda is considered to be the embodiment of demonic power on the island.

Her face carved out of stone or wood is always covered with a white veil, so that anyone accidentally sees this evil incarnation and brings misfortune upon itself. In addition to the main priest in the Temple of the Dead, there is another minister who wears the mask of a witch during the dances of Rangda.

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The Barong dance plays a very important role in Bali, not only does it bring in a lot of tourism which helps fund local craftsmen and business that supports the Bali economy, it also displays the battle between Rangda and Barlong.  Barlong animal mask dance, also well known as  sanghyang dance are considered native Balinese dances, which predates from Hindu influences. This shows simply how Balinese people appreciate performances  and what significant meaning it has, due to it being part of the island’s unique history. The Barlong which is the name of the dance as well as the enemy of Rangda is known as the king of the spirits, he is portrayed as a lion with a red head and is covered in thick white fur. He also wears gilded jewellery adorned with pieces of mirrors. In the dance Rangda is depicted by the mask as well as other characterises such as massive teeth and she moves around creepily on the stage. Both the Barlong and the Rangda masks are deemed as sacred and before each performance they are sprinkled with holy water and are presented with offerings. This highlights just how symbolic and meaningful the dance is and shows us the constant fight between good and evil.

Despite all the drama of the plot, at the end of the Barong, goodness still triumphs over evil. You can watch the dance in the village of Batubulan, the show starts at 9 am. Also Barong can be seen in the Royal Palace in Ubud.

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This ritual performance reaches beyond the time and place in which the performance originates and creates a ripple effect on the village members, those in trance, musicians and cultural outsiders alike. At the very end, this dance symbolize the intertwining of good and evil and the complex relationship between man & the supernatural.

Aspects of Balinese mythology:

Sang Hyang Tunggal or Tintya - supreme deity

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Semar Balinese Twalen is a member of the pantheon of gods and demi-gods of Balinese mythology

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Batara Guru is the name of a supreme god in Indonesian

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Brahma the God of Creation

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Batara Kala is the god of the underworld in traditional Javanese and Balinese mythology

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