Chak… chak… chak !!!! That was the only sound I could hear for nearly an hour when I sat to watch the much famed Balinese dance form Kechak dance at Uluwatu Temple. It is this ‘chak’ sound that gave the dance drama the name ‘Kechak’.
Kecak Fire dance is an iconic art performance of Bali. This dance form is exhibited to the tourists daily at Uluwatu temple and the tickets are priced at 500 Rs per person. Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of the sacred directional temples of Bali. ‘Ulu’ means head and ‘watu’ means rock. Thus Pura Uluwatu is temple at the head of the rock.
It stands atop a sheer cliff rising 200 feet above the Indian ocean.
Temple commands a wonderful view of sea breaking against the base of cliffs below.
Kechak dance is performed in an amphitheatre located south of the temple at 6pm. Pathway leading to amphitheatre is rimmed with trees.
Eventhough we reached Uluwatu temple at 5.15 Pm, we reached the amphitheatre at 6.10 as we spend time in and around the temple enjoying the sunset vistas.
Kechak performance takes place on a circular stage surrounded by bleachers that rise to a maximum of 10 feet above ground accommodating nearly 800 tourists and giving everyone a good view.
It was crowded by the time we reached and hence had to be satisfied with the available seats which were towards the left of actual performance.
Nearly fifty bare chested Indonesian men were seated in concentric circles chanting chak chak chak.
In the middle of the circle two beautifully dressed dancers were performing gracefully. I glanced quickly through the leaflet, handed to me along with the ticket, that descibed the dance drama. That was how I understood that Kechak dance was a dance drama based on the epic story of Ramayana and what I was viewing was Sita and Rama expressing their love for each other.
Kechak dance begins with the arrival of Rama and Sita accompanied by Rama’s s brother Laxmana in the forest of dandaka. Ravana, the demon king accidentally sees beautiful Sita and he lusts for her. Ravana sets out to kidnap Sita. Maricha, Ravana’s friend, transforms into a golden deer to distract Rama and Laxmana.
Ravana transfoms into an old man to fool Sita into stepping away from a magic circle of protection set by Laxmana. When Sita steps out of the magic circle, Ravana kidnaps her.
Rama seeks help of monkey king Hanuman to find Sita. Hanuman goes to Lanka in search of Sita. Hanuman finds Sita and gives Rama’s ring to Sita as a token of his contact with her husband. She gives Hanuman a hair pin to give to Rama along with a message that she’s waiting for his rescue. Ravana’s soldiers capture Hanuman and try to burn him alive.
Hanuman uses his magical power to escape and the performance ends.
In Kechak dance, there is actually no music. But sounds generated from all dancers who make music in acapella .
It was awesome to watch the Ramayana story in dance drama form accompanied by the chak chorus in the background of dramatic sunset. Sky changed colour from golden to pink and finally blue.
Scene of romance were accompanied by slow tempo of chak chanting while scenes of suspense are highlighted by fast tempo. Men swayed, lifted hands, stood up etc during the dance.
The most dramatic moment during the entire dance was when coconut husks were spread around Hanuman and it was lit. Fire burned bright against the dark night sky. It was scary to watch the ambers fly all around.
Overall Kechak dance was a great cultural experience. The setting on the hill top, dramatic sunset, rhythmic chak chorus, beautiful dance drama combined to make it one of the best dance performances I have ever watched.