On any Bali holiday, tourists will often be presented with the well-known Barong and Keris dance. This dance is of deep cultural significance to the Balinese people and tells the age old story of the battle between good and evil. Many tours will include a performance of the Barong and Keris dance, providing a classic example of the Balinese custom of acting out myth to blend history and mythology into a collective reality.
The Barong and Keris dance is actually quite an exciting spectacle to behold and if not performed by experienced dancers, someone can be seriously injured or even killed. A Keris is an asymmetrical dagger famous for its distinctive wavy blade patterning and has been made in Indonesia for centuries. The dagger is both a weapon and a spiritual object which is deeply embedded in mutually-connected rituals and ceremonies. Keris are believed to contain an essence or have a presence and the Balinese credit them with possessing magical powers.
Barong is a Balinese mythical character portrayed by a strange half lion, half shaggy dog creature. Barong is the king of spirits and leader of good. Banas Pati Rajah is the spirit that animates Barong and is a protector spirit. Barong is a magical protector of Balinese villages and in the Barong and Keris dance, his enemy is Rangda, a witch who rules the spirits of darkness. The Barong and Keris dance tackles the traditional narrative of the never-ending battle between good and evil and the Barong’s struggles against Rangda are intrinsic parts of Balinese culture.
The story of the Barong and Keris dance is used as a reflection of the actions and choices of daily life, representing good and bad behaviour, known as dharma and adharma in Balinese culture. The Barong and Keris dance tells the story of Erlangga, tenth century Bali’s King and his mother Rangda who was criticised by her husband for practicing black magic. Upon becoming a widow, Rangda summoned all the demons and evil spirits in the jungle to besiege King Erlangga. Erlangga fought the demons, but the black magic was too strong and Erlangga has to ask Barong for help.
Barong joined forces with Erlangga and his soldiers and a dramatic fight followed. Rangda cast a spell against Erlangga and his soldiers, making them all want to kill themselves. The soldiers began to point their poisoned keris to their own chests and stomachs. However Barong cast a spell of his own, making their bodies resistant to their sharp keris. Ultimately, Barong’s spell was too strong and he, Erlangga and his soldiers beat Rangda who ran away in defeat.
The Barong and Keris Dance is an exciting performance with an element of danger. It is said that if Rangda’s black magic is too strong, weaker soldiers might not be able to resist her powers and could end up hurting themselves with their own keris, even with the help of Barong. The Barong and Rangda masks used in the Barong and Keris dance are especially sacred items and a priest must be present to sprinkle them with holy water from Mount Agung, offer blessings and present offerings before they are brought out for a performance.