30th July 2006
I love water though I’m not very good in it and as teen/young adult I had certain pyromaniac tendencies; although this tended to be limited to picking up lighters and seeing what I could burn around me. I also have this vague memory of reading a description of fire personified as a licking monster which made me admire it in a new way. So I suppose I was looking forward to the Kecak dance which was described as the fire and trance dance. We were also kind of excited because Ketut had told us he would be performing. Would he be Rama or the White Monkey, or the Monkey King, or part of the 120 strong male choir I wondered as I sat entranced by the centrepiece of tiers of burning candles. Behind me I spotted some of the major cast members donning their elaborately decorated costumes and above me to the right of the stairs I could see groups of men in their checked black and white sarongs which symbolises the conflict between good and evil chatting away.
When it started it was nothing like I had expected. The choir came down the stairs chanting chaka chakachakachaka chaka. Every now and again someone would shout out and the chant would speed up, slow down, rise and fall in intensity. As they descended they waved their hands in the air, bowed to the left, bowed to the right and eventually formed a circle around the candles where they sat cross legged and continued to chant. An older member of the choir provided the haunting wailing melody which weaved and entwined with the chanting. But in a way the choir was more than a choir. They were the scenery and supporting cast; one moment representing fallen armies, the next the snake that swallowed Rama whole. They provided bridges and tunnels and the dignitaries welcoming the Monkey King, all the time keeping up the chant. And throughout the whole time that this dance kept me rapt, every single hair on my body stood on end.
But if that wasn’t enough after the Monkey King defeated the baddie and the choir disappeared back up the temple stairs and the candles were put aside, two members of the choir returned and piled up a bunch of coconuts. Once they were lit the heat off them was incredible and the three pronged prickly monster danced to a tune of its own as its innards glowered through shades of red and orange.
As I sat hypnotised by the flames a third bare foot choir member now sporting a hobby horse came flying down the stairs and straight through the fire kicking burning coconut shells at startled tourists. The two others swept the shells back into one burning mass and horseman ran through the fire again. This continued until the fire was almost tamed at which point the two sweepers decided enough was enough and began chasing the horseman kicking up a storm of embers and finally wrestling him to the ground.
Later Ketut told us that he hadn’t performed that night, but that he was the head of the village and they had only begun putting on the Kecak dance eighteen months ago. The villagers were all pleased with the result because now the door money paid for the upkeep of the temple. So Ketut’s talents add up to running his hotel, putting on feasts, Kecak dances and organising anything we wanted to do in and around Ubud (as we were soon to discover).
Unfortunately camera had even less to focus on then the night before, but I still kind of like these pictures. And I wonder if it's the same big head as the night before! Mmm.