Balinese fire dance – Ulu Watu


The Temple of Ulu Watu

Besides incredible natural beauty, Bali devotes many expanses of time and space to worship.  A few days ago, we walked through one, called Ulu Watu on the Southern tip of the island.  It is a very spiritual place for the Balinese people (mostly Hindu).  The temple itself is a great expanse of structures, walkways and altars all set atop a breath-taking cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Everything was built right to the edge of great 1000 foot cliffs that dropped into pounding surf.  And though the architecture was grand, there was also a distinct lean to the guardrails as erosion slowly sloughs the edges into the waves below.  Every structure was coated in moss, lichen and green grinding away at the carvings.  The temple seemed to me a reminder that humans are wonderfully capable, but our lives will not last forever.  Here is a quick selection of Ulu Watu images.

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Komang (shown in several pictures) was our guide, friend, assistant, translator, maker of all things to happen, and driver.  He is a kind man, father of two, Hindu, and married to a muslim woman Ida (who was the kind-hearted caretaker of the home we stayed in on Bingin Beach).

A Balinese fire dance

After touring the temple, we decided to watch the evening’s entertainment – a dance performance depicting four of the many scenes of the Eastern mythological tale, “the Ramayana.”  It will be impossible for me to describe the dance, but I’ll give you a little feel, and some photos.  Also, I edited a bunch of semi-decent/junky cell phone video down to about a 4 1/2 minute video of the performance.  I’ll post the Youtube URL at the bottom of this post.

Quick description of the dance:  The music of the dance was an unaccompanied “choir” of 70 men, all bare-chested in matching sarongs.  Several characters in mask or heavy make-up and elaborate costumes entered the stage to show the hero (Rama) lose his beautiful wife (Sita) to a demon king (Ramanha).  The monkey-god Hanuman finally helps Rama get Sita back.  Some photos:

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How did our kids do watching an hour long dance with only Indonesian language and song?

Everything about this should have gone wrong.  The dance started at 6 pm, we hadn’t yet eaten dinner, it was a dance performance, and was not in English.  All parents out there know that I just stated about 4 sure-fire precursors of a ragged kid reaction.

However, after reading a difficult-to-decipher English translation of the story, I gave the kids a brief summary.  They were really into it, kept asking what point of the story we were in, and which character was which.  At the end of the show, they ran up to different characters wanting pictures, and knew who was who.

Back in the car, the kids chattered about the show, and asked more questions about what was happening.  Amy’s jaw kind of went “slack” since she hadn’t read the show notes, basically didn’t understand any of the story line, and just took it in “like poetry.”  Pretty much the same thing that happens when we pause to look at a historical sign.  I suggest that she might learn more by reading rather than relying on diffusion…

There was also some good comic relief as about halfway through the performance, a real monkey jumped onto the banister at the back of the amphitheater.  The monkey started trying to snag people’s snacks, sunglasses, purses, whatever.  As the monkey ran around the perimeter, the audience burst into a chaotic stadium wave, collapsing inward away from the pesky primate.  The performers continued singing and dancing, but their eyes and smiles let us know that this was unplanned.  Finally guards chased the critter out right before the monkey-god, Hanuman appeared.  Good dramatic choreography!

Our kids did great.   They enjoyed the art, the story and the experience of being in a large spectating crowd with people from all around the world.  When the narrator called out, “Who’s from ______?” China, Australia and Indonesia were the top bills.  Americans in Bali are the minority tourist.

Here is a link to the YouTube video of the dance:

Balinese Fire Dance

Cheeseburgers out.

Author: johnchesbrough

I am a dad from Bellingham, WA, excited to share our family adventure through Asia. I like to play in the mountains and wood, with my family, my dog, and with numbers.

3 thoughts on “Balinese fire dance – Ulu Watu”

  1. Whoa….. soaked it all up, John. You have me jumping in my chair! Love it….. Amy and the kids look mesmerized. Love you and Merry Christmas!


  2. Now that looks like a great performance! Tell the kids that I took a college course that revolved around the Ramayana. Interesting…my personal favorites are Sita and Hanuman.


  3. Quincy says “Mia, Poe Poe, Ah monkey.” Addy “that’s awesome!!!!”
    Amy “whoa is that guy barefoot?” And tears up at the pic of John and Amy with the caption still traveling together
    Cris “looks fun!”


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