TJALON ARANG PLAY
is in a performance of Tjalon Arang, the legend of Rangda.
that the Balinese theatre reaches the height of its magnificence.
It combines the fine music and delicate dancing of the legong
with the elaborate staging, the acting, singing, and comedy
o' the classic plays, besides the element of mystery and
The Tjalon Arang is not an ordinary play, but a powerful
exorcism against leyaks, because by dramatizing Rangda's
triumphs, the Balinese aim to gain her good will. Preparations
forstaging the great show start days before; it is essential
that a " male " papaya tree, which bears no fruit, be first
transplanted from the wilds to the middle of the dancing-grounds,
because such a tree is the favourite haunt of the leyaks.
A tall house on stilts is built at one end for Rangda, reached
by a high runway of bamboo, flanked by spears, pennants,
and umbrellas, all symbols of state. The entire dancing-space
is covered by a canopy of streamers made of palm-leaf and
tissue-paper flags; as many petrol lamps as are available
in the village light the stage.
By midnight the audience is assembled, waiting patiently,
listening to the special Tjalon Arang music, perhaps the
finest in Bali, played by a full legong orchestra augmented
with large bamboo flutes. A full moon is propitious for
the performance and the company waits until the moon comes
out from behind the black clouds, sillhouetting the temple
roofs, the palm trees, and the long aerial roots of the
village banyan tree, a hanging black curtain of long tentacles
against the sky, the perfect setting for the magic play.
Offerings are made beforehand and consultations are held
so as not to offend Rangda and to ascertain whether it is
safe to hold the performance.
The show begins after midnight and lasts until dawn, when
the witch makes her appearance. The play approaches our
dramatic literature more nearly than anything else in Bali.
It relates the episodes of the struggle between Rangda and
the great Erlangga. Dancing interludes by six little girls,
the pupils of the witch, alternate with slapstick, the encounters
of the king's subjects with leyaks, and with dramatic songs
by the prince sent to kill Rangda. She is impersonated by
an old actor gifted with such great powers that he is able
to withstand, in his own body, the dangerous spirit of the
dawn the atmosphere becomes surcharged with mystery as the
old actor goes into Rangda's house to enter into the trance.
Watchmen are appointed to wake all the children that have
fallen asleep lest their tender souls be harmed; a priest
stands ready to conjure Rangda, who will make her triumphal
appearance at the end of the play. A flickering lamp can
be seen through the curtains of the house, and there is
an occasional groan from the actor as he undergoes the painful
transformation. Meantime below, as the music becomes violent,
the prince advances across the dancing-space with his kris
The climax is a critical moment, as it is never known what
will happen next. It is not unusual for Rangda to run wild
and go about the village moaning, or to disappear into the
blackness of the ricefields. The actor, who is possessed
by the spirit of the real Rangda, is hard to bring under
control. I have been told of an old actor from Tedjakula
who, after impersonating Rangda, ran amuck and went insane
when captured. He is said never to have regained his mental
balance. To the Balinese this was, once more, the evidence
of the danger of releasing uncontrolled magic powers.