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Balinese Arts, from Homage to Performance  

by on Tuesday, 25 April 2006No Comment | 1,425 views

It is often said by the specialists of the arts that the arts in Bali are most often created as homage to the great creator, and characterized with the feeling of high devotion towards the arts itself. A work of traditional art is able to invoke vibrations of taksu, or to spring one’s interest, because the process of creation itself is supported by a will to dedicate a good work of art, free of the feelings of ego in regard to its copyright and value.

Works of art and culture in Bali first appeared as duties, which were carried out together by groups of professionals, as an offering of their devotion in its perfection, through carrying out various religious activities, towards God. Dance and music are created as expressions of the feeling of happiness in welcoming the presence of the Gods, when performing ceremonies at the temples. Works of fine art, in the form of paintings and carvings, are always present as part of the offerings, mediating spiritual communication, and the singing of the kidung, which functions as words of homage in return for the well-being brought by the Gods.


In Bali, artists believe that the works of art they produce originate from a long time ago, from the conducts of a priest carrying out his act of worship through mantras. Dance is regarded as the same as the mudra, the movements of the priest’s hands. Music is regarded as playing the same tones as the sound of the priest’s bell; and the kidung is also regarded as being in harmony with the mantra of the priest. This is why offerings of dance, gamelan and the Kidung are often performed simultaneously with the priest carrying out his worship.

In addition to carrying out artistic activities, the people of Bali, in general, are great appreciators of art with a somewhat fanatic enthusiasm. The creation of theater performances are motivated by a variety of stories, which are all worked on with care, so that it is easily appreciated by the audience, which in turn, will deepen their insight and thought. The rulers of the past were supportive of artistic activities as well, regarding the arts as an effective media for transmitting their ideologies to their people. It is not surprising that the art of literature flourished at an early stage, which gave a clear direction for the development of other artistic genres. In time, almost all genres of art went through the transition from sacred to profane, and from being a media of worship to a more secular performance.

Historically, the arts have been an inseparable part of the daily life of the Balinese. When the feudal society run by the kings was still at its zenith, various genres of art and culture belonged to the realm of the king and his family at the palace. At the time when the governance of Bali and the lifestyle of the people came to be shaped according to the philosophy of the Hindu religion, the arts were also transformed into media of worship.

In various forms, as part of the daily life of the Balinese, the arts have continuously reflected the times. It is not surprising, therefore, that the arts in Bali have been sustained and grown despite the many disturbances experienced through the ages. Even when Bali was colonized by the Dutch, the arts were constantly developed in accordance to the times. Architecture, fine art, dance, music and various other genres of the arts continued unabated, despite the battles of Puputan (fight to the death) in Badung, Klungkung and Margarana.


Balinese architecture has received aesthetic influences from outside cultures with open arms. The Bale Maskerdan of the Karangasem Palace, as well as the Patra Wedanda, Patra Cina, and Patra Kuta Mesir are examples of where omaments from the outside were successfully imitated by Balinese architects. It was also during the colonial era that the dance, music and fine arts of Bali became known to the outside world.

Entering the era of tourism in the 1960s, Bali came into ever closer contact with foreign culture and, slowly but surely, various entertainment facilities started to appear to fulfill the necessities of the industry. The arts in Bali were also developed and redesigned to fulfill this need. Then, performing arts (dance and music) became not media to carry the stories to be passed on, but were transformed into time-limited entertainment. Often, dance and music were performed during the guest’s dinner. The result was that the arts of the people remained in the temples and ritualistic contexts, while new creations were to be consumed by the tourists. This does not reflect anything wrong in the attitude towards the performing arts, but it is most important that the arts, which have been passed on from the ancestors, should be scrutinized and sustained so that they do not become extinct.

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