BALI CULTURE INFORMATION

 

 
 
The Island Of Bali, Indonesia

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WITCHCRAFT

WITCHES, WITCH-DOCTORS, AND THE
MAGIC THEATRE

The mask was placed on his head and the pries listened with intense interest to the incoherent groans, muffled, by the mask, which he translated in a monotonous voice as the words of Rangda, now in the body of the medium. After the offerings that she demanded were enumerated, she reproached the villagers for neglecting to give a performance of Tjalon Arang, the play in which her triumphs are enacted.

To end the ceremony the musicians played and Rangda danced, then the man was taken out of the trance and Rangda, presumably, went back to her abode in the summit of the highest mountain, the Gunung Agung.

Time and again we saw Rangda appear in various magic play, . she was invariably represented as a monstrous old woman, hernaked white body striped with black. Rings of black fur circled her long, hanging breasts, realistically made of bags of whit: cloth filled with sawdust. She was entirely covered by her white hair, which reached to her feet, allowing only the bulging eyes and twisted fangs of her mask to be seen.

Her tongue hung out, a strip of leather two feet long, painted red and ending in flames of gold. A row of flames came from the top of her head. She wore white gloves with immense claws and in her right hand she held the white cloth with which she hid her horrible face to approach her unsuspecting victims. This cloth became a deadly weapon if it struck.

The character of Rangda has its origin in historical facts, now interwoven with fantastic myth. At the beginning of the eleventh century a Balinese prince became the king of Java, the great Erlangga. His mother, Mahendradatta, was a Javanese princess who ruled Bali with her Balinese husband, Dharmodayana, until the husband, suspecting her of practising evil magic, exiled her to the forest.

When Erlangga's father died, leaving Mahendradatta a rangda, a widow, she conspired to use her band of pupils trained in the black arts to destroy Erlangga's kingdom. Professor Stutterheim says that her chief grudge against Erlangga was that he had failed to bring pressure upon his father not to take another wife. Moreover, none of the nobility would marry Rangda's beautiful daughter, Ratna Menggali, out of fear of the old witch, and her caste as a Javanese princess required a noble marriage or none at all. Before Rangda was vanquished by the superior magic of Mpu Bharada, Erlangga's teacher, she had killed nearly half of Erlangga's subjects by plagues brought by her leyaks.

The following is an extract of the current Balinese version of the story of Rangda (translated from the Kawi by R. Ng. Poerbat)araka, in De Calon Arang) :

" The old witch rangda Tjalon Arang had sworn to destroy the happy and prosperous Daha, Erlangga's kingdom, because of fancied insults to her beautiful daughter Ratna Menggali - the noblemen of Daha had refused her in marriage for fear of her mother's evil reputation. Tjalon Arang went with her pupils to the cemetery and they prayed and danced in honour of Begawati, the deity of black magic, to help them destroy Daha. The goddess appeared and danced with them, granting her permission, warning the witch, however, to preserve the centre of the kingdom untouched. The witches danced at the crossroads and soon people fell ill in great numbers. "

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