Monsters and spirits from the Balinese culture

10 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, are dated from the ancient animism era. 

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

According to folklore, Barong is a fantastic creature in the form of a lion. Balinese believe that a person can be horrible 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 god is always enclosed in a non-human being.

The Barong is Bali’s 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 like 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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Barong dance plays a significant role in Bali. Not only does it bring in a lot of tourism that helps fund local craftsmen and businesses that support the Bali economy, but it also displays the battle between Rangda and Barlong. Barlong animal mask dance, also known as sanghyang dance, is considered native Balinese dances, which predate from Hindu influences. This shows how Balinese people appreciate performances and its significance, 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 redhead and is covered in thick white fur. He also wears gilded jewelry adorned with pieces of mirrors. In the dance, Rangda is depicted by the mask as well as other characterizes 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 where the performance originates and creates a ripple effect on the village members, those in a trance, musicians, and cultural outsiders alike. At the very end, this dance symbolizes the intertwining of good and evil and the complicated 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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