BALI CULTURE INFORMATION

 

 
 
The Island Of Bali, Indonesia

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THE TJALON ARANG PLAY

It 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 suspense.

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 witch herself.

Towards 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 drawn.

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.

 
     

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